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From Rockford, Con Amor

10 Years On, Spanish Immersion Still Strong


Sidney Gardner held a ribbon against a yardstick, Madalynn Fulton extended a weight attached to the ribbon, and Carter Powell and Carlos Newman stood poised with stopwatches. Then Madalynn let go of the weight.

“Uno, dos, tres, cuatro …” the fifth-graders chanted in unison with each full back-and-forth swing, until they reached “diez”: 10. Then they recorded the result in notebooks, part of an experiment to see how long it took ribbons of various lengths to swing back and forth.

Conducting a pendulum experiment, in Spanish, are (from left) Alanna Mulligan, Lara Sagorski and Tatum Roberts

The science was interesting, but the fact students were doing it all in Spanish was rather remarkable. Indeed, all discussion was in that language in this Spanish Immersion class at Roguewood Elementary School.

Here, ask a student a question and she’ll give you a fluent answer in Spanish. After all, most of the 315 or so Spanish Immersion students have been in the program since kindergarten. Many of them feel just as at home in Spanish as in English – or more so.

“Sometimes I’ll forget what a word is and think of it in Spanish,” said Grace Lyons, who has been to Mexico and the Dominican Republic. “I just think it’s easier to learn it in Spanish than in English.”

Such bilingual facility has made Rockford’s Spanish Immersion program a popular one since beginning 10 years ago. Pupils start with 90 percent Spanish instruction in kindergarten and gradually increase to 50-50 by fifth grade, at which point they can continue in the North Rockford Middle School immersion program.

Roguewood Elementary fifth-grader Grace Lyons says when searching for a word she’ll sometimes think of it first in Spanish

Bilingual Benefits Aplenty

There is a waiting list for the program, as parents seek bilingual benefits for their children not only in the future job market but in learning itself, says Roguewood Principal Doug Hoogerland.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to help with their thinking and processing” by more fully engaging their minds, Hoogerland said.

Fifth-grade teacher Alejandro Ramos sees the benefits for his own son, also named Alejandro, who was among the first students in the program. Ramos began as a parent volunteer in that class, then became a paraprofessional, then a certified teacher for the past five years. His son will be a junior next fall.

Ramos knows firsthand the benefits of being bilingual.

“Every single job that I have had is because I speak Spanish,” said Ramos, originally from Mexico. The immersion program also helps Roguewood students excel on standardized tests, he added. “The brain somehow is able to observe the two languages, even three, and it does help with the brain development.”

Learning in Spanish is “really fun,” says Grace Lyons, left, studying here with Abby Woznick

In a classroom decorated with symbols of Latin culture, he conducted a recent science lesson with Spanish questions on a projector screen, to which students provided answers in Spanish. They then scattered to do their pendulum experiment, their excitement perhaps heightened by the presence of this reporter as well as Maranda, who was taping a segment for her WOTV4 Women program “Where You Live” (see link below).

Anna Skidmore explained the experiment, saying in Spanish, “We’re going to be seeing how much time it takes for the pendulum to travel 10 times.”

How does she like being able to do that?

“It’s really fun,” Anna said. “It’s fun to actually know two languages. When I go to Mexico, I can understand what everybody’s saying.”

CONNECT

Maranda report: Students Share Their Experiences with Spanish Immersion

Spanish Immersion Students Engage Literature with Mexican Author

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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