CONNECTIONS WINTER 2019

Of All the Ways to Kindergarten: Spanish Immersion

ROSE PARK SPANISH IMMERSION

There are plenty of Spanish Immersion programs going on all around us, so we prayed and thought long and hard whether Holland Christian should start yet another one. But parents kept asking for it, and we saw how beneficial the program was to so many other schools, and felt God nudging us in that direction. And now, just six months in, we are so excited to see it working in such marvelous ways already!

It is a real treat to just sit and watch what’s going on in the Spanish Immersion (SI) kindergarten at Rose Park. Only you can’t understand much of what’s going on—unless you know Spanish, of course. Already, their teacher Hillary Klipp-Lopez rattles off completely in Spanish to them about Moses and the 10 plagues, about how to find syllables in the words they’re reading or speaking, or the difference between nouns and adjectives. And you can tell by their faces, their reactions, their delight and horror at frogs everywhere, that they’re understanding it all.

“They literally have a song for everything: a transition song, Bible song, reading song, how to get dressed in the winter,” said Dinah Pereira, the SI coordinator at Rose Park. “[Hillary] even made up a song on how do you ask for help opening up their snack. That’s a big part of language—how to ask for those kinds of things.”

And slowly the students are gaining that confidence to actually ask in Spanish, rather than their first language English, haltingly, sometimes catching themselves or grinning shyly, but eager to prove they can speak in Spanish. Mostly right now it’s basic things, immediate needs like help with a snack, or help putting on their boots.

You can tell by their faces, their reactions, their delight and horror at frogs everywhere, that they’re understanding it all…

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Aside from the language, things don’t really look too different in the Spanish Immersion classroom from their English counterparts. Except the bulletin boards are in Spanish, the flags decorating the walls are a little more colorful. And they’re doing pretty similar things in the the morning sessions to their English kindergarten counterparts—they begin with the weather and calendar, who’s the helper for the day, and then move into their grammar lessons supplied by add.a.lingua, HC’s SI partner. But there is one difference in learning grammar through Spanish instead of English—once SI kids learn the five vowels and their sounds with various consonant combinations over the first five weeks of school, they focus on one syllable a week, instead of an alphabet letter as in English, so that students are reading Spanish syllables right off the bat.

“We don’t water it down!” assured Dinah. “We say it, spell it, we live it, we love it!”

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Spanish Immersion kids tend to be better problem solvers, to think at a higher level, because they’ve had to do this since the first day of school.

The expectation is that for the first six weeks of SI kindergarten, the teacher speaks to the students completely in Spanish, and they catch on surprisingly quickly to what she is saying. After the first six weeks, students are expected to talk to their teacher in Spanish, but can talk to their classmates in English during downtimes in the classroom. In order to help make the next transition to get kids talking to each other in Spanish, during snack time or other down times students will often listen to children’s songs in Spanish, and join in, or will watch or just listen to videos in Spanish. Then starting in right about now in January, most students have enough vocabulary to actually express themselves to their classmates in Spanish as well, and are expected to do so.

“I’m blown away all the time!” said Hillary. “It’s been really impressive, how kids will realize ‘I do know that word!,’ how they’re putting all the pieces together and seeing progress.”

And sometimes they’re learning the words in Spanish before they know their English counterparts, like one student who had never heard the Spanish word “bendicion,” or “blessing” in English before, but came home talking about his Bible story of Esau and Jacob. “He knew it was something good you get from your dad, and that he lays his hands on your head to give it,” said Dinah. “It was really cool that he was able to capture that word. I hope other people are having these kinds of conversations, too!”

In math they’re doing the same things as their English counterparts, counting by 10s in Spanish, adding and finding groups of fives. “All of these things transfer into English very easily,” assured Dinah. “They get a reading tip every week, telling parents to help their kids try to find words that rhyme, because that’s important in English, too!” Though they typically will not be able to read fluently in English until after their English counterparts, or write fluently in either Spanish or English, as these are the last skills to transfer. But it doesn’t mean those skills won’t come eventually.

When it’s time in January to take their second round of standardized MAPS tests to check their academic growth, they’ll take the tests in English.

“Research proves that all of their language has transferred, and they perform equally if not superior [to their English counterparts] because of their problem solving since such a young age,” explained Dinah. “Spanish Immersion kids tend to be better problem solvers, to think at a higher level, about how can I do this differently, because they’ve had to do this since the first day of school.”

And it’s really cool to see the ripple effect that the Spanish Immersion preschool and kindergarten classes are having already on the culture of the larger Rose Park school as a whole. Spanish signs are growing up on the entry doors, next to bathroom doors. Third grade buddies stop by and practice their three-times-aweek-Spanish with their SI kindergarten buddies on their way to chapel together. There are more Spanish books in the school library. Students in English speaking classes are excited to use their Spanish more in the hallways, stand in amazement at those SI kindergarteners and how they understand everything their teachers rattle off to them— even wish they had Spanish Immersion too!

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