by Becky GINOS
FARMINGTON—It took 12 years, but the first class of the Spanish immersion program in Davis County graduated last week.
Students from Viewmont and Layton high schools celebrated the achievement at a special ceremony May 1.
“We’re the first in the state to do it,” said Bonnie Flint, supervisor, Secondary World Languages for the district. “Granite District’s are in the 11th grade so it will be interesting to see how it grows.”
The program started 12 years ago with the principals at Sand Springs and Eagle Bay elementaries, she said. “They started an immersion program on their own because the parents were very globally minded. At the same time we started the world languages,” said Flint. “A year later Sen. Howard Stephenson, Gov. Huntsman and Gregg Roberts (former Utah State Board of Education immersion director) pushed for a bill on global education.”
Huntsman put together a task force to determine what the state needed to be ready for the 21st century. “Businesses said we needed languages to compete globally,” she said. “Change happened, especially in Davis County.”
In kindergarten, students in the immersion program learn regular content in the target language for half the time and in English for the other half. “In junior high it’s not complete immersion because you have other classes,” Flint said. “But there is a social studies class in culture and media taught in the target language.”
In May of their ninth grade year students take an AP test. “If they pass that it gives them lower division college credit in language,” she said. “Then in high school they take the bridge course that has 3000 level university classes. When they complete those they only have two more courses at college to get a minor.”
Both high school teachers and a visiting professor teach the classes. “When it hits all of the districts it will be interesting to see what happens with the professors because it’s a full load just with high school,” Flint said. “It’s going to involve many professors. Every district has a different university for concurrent enrollment.”
Flint said students in the immersion program really acquire the language and how to use it, not just learn about it. “We’ve identified the key languages needed. Chinese is huge in global politics and trade. It’s the most spoken language on the planet,” she said. “French is the fastest growing language in business and trade and we think soon it will be in the top three spoken languages. We want to be ahead of that.”
Many states are using Utah’s model, she said. “Sometimes people are surprised that Utah is leading the way nationally in something so progressive. The parents support the global opportunities and vision. Without that we couldn’t do any of this.”