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Immersion programs expand through district
by Louise R. Shaw
Aug 18, 2011 | 5645 views | 2 2 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
STUDENTS AT STEWART Elementary share their knowledge of Chinese culture and language. Courtesy photo
STUDENTS AT STEWART Elementary share their knowledge of Chinese culture and language. Courtesy photo
DAVIS COUNTY — Some of the new kindergartners at Muir Elementary in Bountiful won’t only be learning their ABCs and 123s this year, they’ll be learning Chinese.

And besides taking on beginning studies in the sciences and early reading, kindergartners and first graders at Foxboro will be parlez-vousing in francais.

Muir and Foxboro are two of four district schools that will be adding language immersion programs to their curriculums this year, bringing a total of nine schools to Davis County that offer language immersion programs at the elementary level.

Across the country, there are about 350 individual schools with language immersion programs, according to Rita Stevenson, elementary world language supervisor for Davis School District, who has helped bring the program to fruition. Many of those programs are in private or charter schools.

Utah will have 57 immersion programs in public schools this coming year. Davis County has nine of those.

Besides Muir and Foxboro, Heritage Elementary in Layton will introduce Chinese this coming year and Buffalo Point in Syracuse will begin Spanish immersion. Those schools join Stewart Elementary in Centerville and Syracuse Elementary, with Chinese programs, Eagle Bay in Farmington and Sand Springs in Layton with Spanish, and Morgan Elementary in Kaysville, with French.

Interest in developing language skills in Utah students at early ages came from former Gov.Jon Huntsman, according to Stevenson. Huntsman promoted language education as an economic boon for the state. With trading partners from Canada and Mexico, and ties being developed with China, more grants were provided from the state for schools to develop such programs.

Davis District’s Dual Language Immersion programs are directly linked under the State Office of Education’s leadership, with Gregg Roberts, director of World Languages for the state, as coordinator. “It is under his direction and leadership that our programs have flourished,” said Stevenson.

Costs are incurred mostly at the start of the program, when it is necessary to purchase new textbooks and curriculum in the language. After that, costs are minimal, she said.

“It’s the most efficient way of teaching a second language.

“They will never be the same for having had this experience,” said Stevenson of immersion students. Historically, language studies have started in the United States at the junior high level, but many who took those courses now say they didn’t learn anything and don’t remember any of it, that they don’t speak it or understand it, she said.

“There’s an optimum time to learn,” she said, and this program begins with how to communicate. “The first mode of communication is understanding and then being understood,” she said. The understanding comes before the verbalizing.

She tells stories of a 7-year-old Syracuse student on a trip to Disneyland, who was able to interpret what the Chinese tourists next to them in line were talking about, and of a first grader who helped her grandparents with language questions.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said, “it’s a miracle.”

The program is not without its challenges. Teachers must pass a higher level of oral proficiency tests than secondary teachers must now pass (though secondary requirements may be increased as well).

As a result, three new teachers are coming to Davis County from China and two from Spain.

That has caused some movement among other teachers, but no one has ever lost a job due to the program, she said: “We can assimilate them with our natural growth.”

Immersion teachers teach half day, and English-speaking teachers the other half, switching classes mid-way, so each teacher has twice the students.

School faculties have been really supportive of the program, said Stevenson, and have worked to ensure kids both inside and out of the language study continue to stay involved and to feel part of the school.

She emphasized that it is not a talented and gifted program but includes kids at all levels. Studies both inside and outside the district have found that the kids do as well or better in core subject testing than their monolingual peers.

Because of the new language, teachers must present math concepts in multiple ways, using manipulatives as well as “basic, good teaching practices.”

Even English, she said, can sometimes be better understood when studied in combination with other languages.

In later grades, Utah and U.S. studies are presented in English. World history is taught in the second language.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said of the program that this year will include 1,600 district students. “It’s an incredible program. We are giving our students a gift that they will receive nowhere else.”
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August 24, 2011
The article focused on immersion programs in the public schools of Davis School District. Charter schools are often featured in the Clipper, but in this case the focus was on public schools.
August 24, 2011
Why is North Davis Prep Academy in Layton not listed here?
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