Expanding education through language immersion programs

Posted at 7:27 AM, Aug 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-25 11:08:17-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — If going back to school wasn’t hard enough imagine learning everything in Spanish or Mandarin. Good morning, buenos dias and zaoshang hao… 3 different languages in which students across West Michigan are getting fully immersed throughout the school year. We caught up with the Forest Hills School District to see how their Spanish and Mandarin Chinese immersion programs prepare students above and beyond.

A simple good morning in a different language is just the beginning of what these students learn. Being immersed in Spanish or Mandarin means every piece of their school day is taught in their new language.

"So math, science, social studies, reading, writing, all of it's done in Spanish. So the minute the kids walk in through the school doors, we start speaking Spanish all day, until they leave," said Gabriela Tobar, the Spanish immersion teacher.

Starting in kindergarten students at Ada Vista and Meadow Brook Elementary dive into these languages and continue to learn this way through high school.

"I think the earlier you start, that's essential. They're obviously becoming bi-literate, not even just bilingual, but they're learning to read, write and speak in Spanish. So the earlier you start, the better," said Tobar.

The teachers say at first the kids can be a bit confused and stressed but quickly catch on and work really hard every day.

"With every activity that we do. We speak Spanish except they make us do it in a fun way," said Aylin Cumings, a 5th-grade student.

The teachers make school fun while learning a new perspective on new cultures within these languages while covering the typical curriculum. The teachers say learning through a second language can be very beneficial for these students' brain development as well. The transition from day 1 to the end of the year is amazing leaving students able to write, read and speak in their new language.

"A lot of the students just feel a lot of great achievement and are proud of themselves," said Yiling Cumings, the Mandarin Chinese immersion teacher.

"It feels awesome, I can speak a new language. It's so much fun," said Arin Goel, a 4th-grade student.

It’s an immersion experience that parents have to take a leap of faith in since many parents do not know the language their students are beginning to fully understand. It’s a decision parents usually don’t regret.

"I think parents choose this program definitely give kids a better chance and opportunity in the future. So they don't stop them for what they want to be in the future or where they want to go," said Cumings.

From kindergarten to adult life and beyond these immersion programs springboard these students with a great new tool in their toolbox.

"I think they're just helping to equip their children with opportunities. And with perspectives, because that's one of the big pieces. It's not just about learning a language, its about learning to be empathetic," said Allison Woodside, the Ada Vista principal.