SPOKANE, Wash. - The 2017-2018 school year is the first year for Spokane Public Schools to have a language immersion program. 50 students were picked from a lottery to become a part of the inaugural class, and the program is so popular there is a waiting list.
Classes are held at the Libby Center and students spend one week in Spanish classes with a Spanish teacher and then one week in English classes with an English teacher.
After only four weeks of school, teachers and administrators are already seeing rapid learning.
"Its been incredible," said Melina Rios, the Spanish teacher. "By the second week they were picking it up. You could see it in their faces when you asked them a question and they understood. They have started responding in Spanish now when I call on them."
Students learn through a combination of music, reading, drawing and other activities just as any other kindergarten class would.
"It can be kind of hard," said one of the students. "But she will do motions for what she wants us to do and stuff when we don't understand."
The principal of the school, Debra De Witt says she's been hearing students speaking and singing in Spanish during lunches, a great indicator of the programs success.
"When you think about the advantages that they will have graduating bilingual," De Witt said, "its not just academic or cognitive, but also there will advantages when it comes to employment."
The language learning does come with its own set of difficulties. Rios is careful not to overwhelm students and give them time to relax.
"They do get tired," said Rios. "Its kindergarten and for them more than most children, they have to be constantly focusing and using their brains."
She says learning in an environment where they can work with others to understand the language is a real plus. Immersion is widely considered to be the best way to learn a new language.
This class will pave the way for the immersion program, continuing on through 6th grade. New kindergarten classes will be added every year. Spokane Public Schools expects to house all grade levels in their own building once the program is fully fleshed out. Additional languages may also be added down the road.
Parents will be able to sign up for next year's kindergarten class lottery following winter break.
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