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Goal: Bilingual by middle school

Inaugural year of immersion program: muy prometedor

Leer en Español, traducido por El Vocero Hispano

Godfrey-Lee — Kindergarten teacher Marissa Sánchez-Lagunas is always looking for good leaders in her classroom. 

“Clase, clase,” she said to her students. 

They replied, “Si, si!” 

“¿Quién está siendo un buen líder?” Sánchez asked. 

“Who is being a good leader?” 

In Sánchez’s dual language class at Godfrey Lee’s Early Childhood Center, 90% of the core curriculum is taught in Spanish. Half of her 26 students are native Spanish speakers, and half are native English speakers. 

During a recent math lesson, Sánchez projected different colored shapes on the whiteboard and asked her students to share their observations.

“¿Qué sabes de estas figuras geométricas?” she asked. “¿cuántos lados tiene un rectángulo?

“What do you know about these geometric figures? How many sides does a rectangle have?”

“Cuatro esquinas,” one kindergartner said.

“Four corners.” 

‘This is a great way for our district to show families we value their native languages, their culture and that they belong here.’

— Alex Kuiper, Godfrey Elementary dean of students

Learning Language Early 

Teaching the dual language program in its first year, Sánchez said she has noticed her students have more empathy toward other language learners. 

“My students always want to help the substitute teachers pronounce words, and they celebrate their peers’ language progress,” she said. 

Godfrey-Lee’s Board of Education unanimously approved the proposal for a dual language immersion, recommended in early 2023 by Jessica Crampton, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. 

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

In a previous interview with SNN, Alex Kuiper, Godfrey Elementary’s dean of students, explained that as the students progress through their K-12 education, each grade will feature 10% more of the curriculum in English.

“This is a great way for our district to show families we value their native languages, their culture and that they belong here,” he said. 

Sánchez previously taught fourth grade at El Puente Elementary in Jenison Public Schools’ Spanish Immersion program.

She said she loved her first experience with a dual language program while studying abroad in Spain, where the students spoke Spanish and Galego, and knew that was the program she wanted to teach.  

“I enjoy how students make connections between languages and learn about the Latino/Hispanic culture simultaneously,” she said. “Spanish-speaking students help English speakers and vice versa whenever they can’t find the correct words to explain their thoughts.”

The most challenging part of teaching young dual language learners, Sánchez said, is covering standard curriculum, while teaching basic vocabulary students need to learn English and Spanish. 

“Kindergarten students might be able to read the word ‘foca’ (seal), but the students only know what they are reading if they have the background knowledge of animals in Spanish,” she explained.  

Kindergartner Yazmin Taylor said she didn’t know any Spanish before she started in the dual language classroom.

Now she knows shapes and colors in Spanish and can roll her “r’s.”

“Ask me a question and I can tell you the answer in Spanish,” Yazmin told a visitor. 

She said she was “seis años” — 6 years old — and that her favorite color is “amarillo” (yellow). 

When asked how she learned to read and speak Spanish so well, she pointed to her teacher, and said, “Maestra Sanchez.”

Read more from Godfrey Lee: 
Spanish dual immersion program set for fall debut
Young, older students pair to celebrate bilingualism superpowers

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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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