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Spanish dual immersion program set for fall debut

Godfrey-Lee — A Spanish-English dual immersion program is slated to kick off in the fall, some five years after the idea was first presented to the Board of Education.

Jessica Crampton, Godfrey-Lee’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, recommended implementation at the Jan. 9 board meeting of a Spanish dual immersion program. After reviewing her rationale for sustainability and parent interest, the board unanimously approved the proposal.

“Bilingualism is a strength and asset to our district and community,” Crampton said. “We have a lot of Spanish-speaking families that push for English because they don’t want their students to get behind. With this program, students can excel in their native language, whether it be English or Spanish.”

The approval was a long time coming for such a program, after previous Assistant Superintendent Carol Lautenbach, Crampton and a team of K-12 bilingual teachers presented the original version to the board in 2017, which was not approved. 

Months of research and planning went on the back burner, but the desire to strengthen the district’s asset of bilingualism lingered.

The team regrouped this school year to conduct more research and gauge interest of current preschool families, Crampton said. 

Mutual Benefits

According to the U.S. News Education Report, the district’s student body is 79.5% Hispanic/Latino, with 54.6% English-language learners. The dual immersion program is aimed to help close the achievement gap between ELs and Non-ELs, improve self-esteem and promote stronger relationships, according to Crampton’s recommendation.

Starting in one kindergarten class next fall, 90% of the core curriculum will be taught in Spanish and 10% of specials including art and gym will be in English. Half the students in the class will be native Spanish-speakers and half native English-speakers. 

 ‘Bilingualism is a strength and asset to our district and community.’

— Jessica Crampton, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning

Alex Kuiper, Godfrey Elementary’s dean of students, worked since its inception to develop the program and said he is “very excited to build bilingualism and biliteracy in our students.” 

“As the students grow, each grade will feature 10% more of the curriculum in English and by fifth grade, it will be 50/50,” Kuiper said. “This is a great way for our district to show families we value their native languages, their culture and that they belong here.” 

Andrea Donovan, Godfrey-Lee’s EL coordinator, said approving the program “speaks a lot about our English-speaking families who value bilingualism and connecting with native Spanish-speaking families.”

Crampton explained how the model evolved from the original recommendation that included working with a consulting company for curriculum and support.

Now, the program has adopted new resources in both English and Spanish and the district’s number of Spanish-speaking staff has also increased, which the team hopes may attract more native Spanish-speaking teachers. 

A new dual immersion program at the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center would teach a kindergarten class in 90% Spanish and 10% English

Becoming Bilingual 

The goal for students is to expose them to both languages, so they are bilingual when they reach middle school. 

“I find it disheartening that we have so many native Spanish-speakers and yet we graduate fewer students that have that Seal of Biliteracy,” Kuiper said. The state seal identifies high school graduates with strong language and biliteracy skills to employers and college and university admission offices.

Donovan added: “In five years from now, I hope we’ll see those biliteracy skills carry over and have more native speakers who are bilingual.” 

Following the board’s approval, Crampton said the team is moving forward to recruit staff and families and plan the application process.

In her proposal to the board, Crampton said there are currently 17 pre-K students and their families who are interested in enrolling in a kindergarten dual immersion program.

“We have the foundation with our families and are so grateful for them and the district supporting this process and this program,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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