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The Real Benefits of Spanish-Immersion Elementary School


Aug 29 2014
It’s not just about speaking another language.

As American kids pack up bookbags and find their classrooms on the first day of school, more of them will be greeted with, “Hola” and “Buenos Dias.” Their bulletin boards will display colors, animals, and days of the week in Spanish. Language-immersion schools are booming in the U.S., not just in places like Texas and California, but across the country.

The Spanish-immersion education offered at public schools presents one more option for parents, many of them already trying to figure out what route will be best for their children. They often spend the first years of their kids’ lives considering their options, weighing pros and cons of private school, public school, Christian school, and homeschool.

While the perks of language immersion programs are debated, the increase in popularity of Spanish immersion programs show that more parents see them as a way promote their children’s academic achievement. These programs boast language and literacy development in two or more languages, and improved cognitive skills for students.

When it came time to choose a school for our children, we also had options. There was what seemed like an obvious choice: a neighborhood school with an award-winning Montessori program 100 yards from our front door. But that’s not what we picked. We drive our kids half way across town, to the school where all the instruction is done in Spanish.

We are three years into public schooling, and as the school year kicks off, we are once again faced with complaints. Our 1st-grader bemoans that the classes are hard, and she doesn’t always know exactly what the teacher is saying. Her confidence is shaky, and she’s hesitant to go. Once again, I am reciting my mantra in reply: I know it is hard, but I love you and will help you, and I believe you can do hard things. We comfort and encourage, but remain resolved to send them back to that Spanish school, even though she speaks unpoquitoespanol and doesn’t like it.

Our daughter doesn’t know it yet – but we are not sending her there primarily to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, or even to learn another language. We are sending her there to experience life as the other, and to learn the compassion that comes from being the one not understood.

This year is the first year that minority students make up the majority in U.S. public schools, and yet this trend does not make for increased diversity within classrooms. In fact, experts are concerned that public schools’ increased segregation puts the country’s success as a multiracial society at risk. As believers called to love across cultural divides, we need to be intentional about developing “we” culture.

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