OGDEN -- Top of Utah school districts are adding to dual-immersion foreign language programs that have been taking off across the state.
In the Weber School District, Uintah Elementary is in its second year of dual-immersion Chinese and Majestic Elementary is beginning a Spanish dual-immersion program. In the Ogden District, T.O. Smith and Bonneville elementaries also are starting Spanish dual-immersion programs.
Students and teachers in the programs spend half the day speaking only the foreign language and the other half in regular English-language classrooms. Currently 45 Utah public elementary schools offer dual-immersion programs, a number Uintah Principal Quinn Karlinsey believes will increase as schools see the success others are having.
The programs are funded through a state grant of approximately $20,000 for schools to get started. The schools and/or districts can then apply for the grant for each additional year the school adds as the program progresses. The program is started in the first grade and then each year an additional year is added ending with sixth grade.
Karlinsey said that in five years half of his students will be able to speak Chinese. Fifty-six students are offered the program at each grade level.
"We have the hope and expectation we will be able to continue to get the grant over six years," Karlinsey said. "It has been fantastic. It has exceeded my expectations to where kids are."
The first group of students moving into second grade will stay with the program and 56 more first graders will be added. With that, another Chinese teacher will be added for the second-graders.
Misti Young, principal at T.O. Smith, said there will be a learning curve for staff, teachers, students and parents. Under the program guidelines only the foreign language can be taught for that half of the day: No English will be spoken.
"It has to be pure immersion," Young said. Students will learn math, Spanish culture, literacy and some composition during their Spanish time. The Chinese program has worked much the same way, Karlinsey said.
Ogden Preparatory Academy doesn't have a dual-immersion program such as these, but students have a specific Spanish class every day, said OPA principal Kathy Thornburg. Elementary students spend 30 to 45 minutes immersed in the Spanish language and also have Spanish intermingled with other studies, depending on the fluency of the teacher. The fifth through eighth grades spend 70 minutes a day and high school students spend 90 minutes a day on Spanish.
Next year the school plans to take tenth graders to Spain for a week.
"Since one of our focuses is Spanish, we want to raise their level of learning," Thornburg said. She believes the process of Spanish learning has worked well at all grade levels.
Young said there is a lot of excitement about the program.
"Parents are really thrilled and feel it is a wonderful opportunity for their children to compete globally," Young said.
Both districts offer the program to students at the school first and then open it up to other students in the district, so all four schools have students attending from across the districts.
Young said she knows the first months may be stressful for students and parents, but things will even out and students will find success. She admits she was a little nervous when she heard the program was coming to her school, but since going through training and seeing the success at other schools, she is very excited.
Uintah just completed a summer school for the second year that gets kids involved in the program. The summer school is not part of the state grant but the school received a private grant.