Spanish Immersion Program
“¡Se celebra la diversidad del mundo y se equipa nuestros estudiantes para servir el reino de Dios por el programa de inmersión en español!”
At Covenant Christian School, we celebrate the diversity of the world and actively equip our students to serve the Kingdom of God through our Spanish Immersion Program.
Teaching students to be global citizens who are prepared to work cross-culturally is an essential part of education in a globalized world. The imperative to foster student engagement across linguistic and cultural lines is particularly central to Christian identity, since the Christian faith views cultural diversity as part of the beauty and richness of God’s creation. At Covenant, students have the unique opportunity to do more than learn about other people and places. Through our Spanish Immersion Program, students are immersed in the Spanish language and experience first-hand the culture of some of the twenty-five countries in which Spanish is a significant language.
The Research on Bilingual Education and Multi-Lingual Children
The Immersion idea isn’t new. Students in Canada and Europe have benefitted from language immersion programs for years and frequently graduate high school with fluency in three or more languages. Research from these countries and the United States demonstrates the benefits of bilingual education.
Beyond the practical aspect of speaking multiple languages, bilingual education improves key elements of brain performance. Learning a second language at a young age changes the development of a child’s brain, particularly in the areas of right-brain/left-brain integration and executive function, which includes working memory, mental flexibility and self-control. Students in language immersion programs demonstrate higher levels of resilience and perseverance then their peers in monolingual classes. They also demonstrate greater creativity in problem solving, which makes sense when we consider how they’ve learned. On a daily basis, students in language immersion programs have to find creative ways to make themselves understood in a new linguistic and cultural context. And, unsurprisingly, students in immersion programs tend to be more flexible and culturally sensitive.
How Language Immersion Works
At Covenant, children as young as three-years-old are immersed in the Spanish language. While most of our students come from English speaking homes, a few have one parent or grandparent who speaks the language. But even students from Spanish-speaking backgrounds do not typically speak Spanish at a proficient level. Moreover, many families have found that it is difficult to maintain a second language in an English-dominant culture, particularly when children begin school and want to be like their English-speaking friends. For English-only families and Spanish-language heritage families, the Immersion Program offers a community of peers and teachers who encourage and support the Spanish language and related cultures, facilitating students’ willingness, as well as their ability, to speak Spanish.
Starting in preschool, children begin all their instruction in Spanish, including Bible, history, language arts, science, and math. During the preschool years students do not typically generate much language on their own, but they are learning a tremendous amount of vocabulary. During Kindergarten, students begin to speak with increasing fluency as they also learn to read, write, work math problems, and study science all in Spanish. In third grade, students begin English instruction through a designated content area, such a history.
Many parents worry about their children’s ability to read in English. We have noted that the children learn to read in both languages without direct English instruction. Their test scores in both languages are good—in fact, when Immersion students take the third grade ISTEP and IREAD in English, their scores often beat their mono-lingual peers!
Immersion models differ, but Covenant’s “early total immersion” model is most effective for developing high levels of proficiency in both Spanish and English. The core curriculum is in Spanish from preschool through second grade, with the exceptions of art & music. English instruction begins in one subject for third grade and increases to about half-English by middle school. Students will continue to grow in their comprehension, vocabulary and reading levels in Spanish even as English language instruction time increases.
History of the Program and Student Experience
At Covenant, we first introduced the Spanish Immersion Program in the fall of 2010 as an alternative to Covenant’s traditional all-English curriculum. We wanted parents to have access to the benefits of an immersion program, and we wanted to better equip our students to serve the Kingdom of God in a globalized world. Partnering with add.a.lingua and working with regional schools that were already running successful immersion programs, we introduced the Spanish Immersion Program in parallel with our preschool students. We’ve added a new grade level each year and now run a Spanish track through grade 6. We are continuing to expand the program and will be introducing classes for grades 7 and 8 over the next two years.
Many parents like the idea of bilingual education but are uncertain as to how their child will cope with learning a second language. Over the past eight years, we’ve seen that as children eat lunch, play on the monkey bars, learn math, color art projects, and read books all in Spanish, it all simply makes sense to them. Babies never receive formal language instruction at home; they watch, listen, and start talking. Immersion works on the same principle. Young children’s brains are wired for language-learning, so they experience Spanish Immersion much like they are still experiencing their English-speaking homes. They watch, they listen, and they begin to speak.
While immersion is natural for children, parents are amazed when they see what their child can do. Parents of Spanish Immersion students often comment on the ease with which their children switch in and out of both English and Spanish. The students are comfortable with studying in Spanish, comfortable with their Spanish and English speaking friends, and comfortable with their teacher.