Monday, May 19, 2014

One Mother's First Year with a Spanish Immersion School



Thankful for guest posts! Have you been thinking about putting your child in a Spanish immersion school but need some help deciding? Here's the perspective of one mother, Francesca, whose child is finishing up her first year in Spanish immersion kindergarten. I hope it helps!

Loving our Spanish Immersion School

As it turned out we had more choices than we expected for Texas public schools. We had our regular home school, an Applied Learning Center, a nearby public Montessori school, Spanish immersion, and of course the very small part-time homeschool that she had been attending for preschool. All of our friends and pretty much every other mom in town was desperate to get into that Applied Learning Center, so the chances of that seemed slim. We still applied and we did not get in. When I called to ask about our other choices this wonderful voice said, "Have you considered Spanish Immersion?" and instantly it clicked! Of course!!! We immediately went down there to peek in on the class and we signed her up that day!

Of course Spanish immersion is perfect for our family, why did we not think of it or look for it ourselves? Honestly, I didn't think there was anything like that available through our public schools. My husband and I have traveled extensively - we love the world and languages. My mother is a Spanish teacher and I grew up going to Spain in the summers with her and her group of high school students. Strictly speaking I never took Spanish. I just absorbed. So I can understand quite a lot, read some, and write very little. I have always been disappointed and embarrassed by my level of Spanish. I feel like after all those summers I should have been fluent. But it is hard to practice Spanish with kids from Texas and the many German, Dutch, and French kids I met in Spain while traveling. So there was more English spoken and them trying to teach me German, than there was Spanish practice. 

"I wanted it to become part of her naturally."
I really wanted my daughter to have a strong foundation in the Spanish language at the start and not just speaking. I wanted her reading and writing and singing! I wanted it to become part of her naturally. We met her dynamic teacher and he told us about his kindergarten class, and the amazing things they did in class. We saw his kindergarten students - after only being exposed to Spanish for three months - following his directions (in Spanish), answering him (in Spanish), speaking to each other (in Spanish) and singing to us (in Spanish)! He then told us he was heading to Spain that summer before our daughter started kindergarten to take some classes for a month. So I insisted he go to Ávila where my mother lives and have my mom show him around. He did go and he says it was the best part of his entire trip! 

Julianna has always loved classes and preschool so she was very excited to go to kindergarten. She had no trouble transitioning. She came home the first few days saying he would not speak English to them and she did not understand him at all. However none of the other kids did either so it's not like she was alone in not understanding. She had not been exposed much to Spanish at all before this. After a few weeks she came home saying a few words, singing a few songs. We both nearly sobbed and fell over with joy upon hearing the first song she sang us in Spanish! After a month it was totally normal that school was in Spanish. She is still very shy about speaking Spanish to anyone or even us, but I know she can. Her teacher sends is videos of her taking and doing science, computers and math all in Spanish. They make QR codes, grow plants for science, garden for food, they learned to dance the Mapalé, they dance flamenco, they call my mother in Spain and talk via Skype in class, they draw their versions of Picasso paintings, they make ice cream, they do addition, subtraction, they are starting multiplication and so much more. When we go up to visit her class she and the other students must only speak Spanish and she does. She speaks with a beautiful accent. She writes in Spanish and knows where all the accents go! She also writes in English. She had learned to read by November (and we had been working on that for a long time) in Spanish and it made reading in English so much easier for her. 

It has made me practice my unused Spanish. She corrects me all the time. She finds it baffling that I know any Spanish at all. She says "Yyyyou know thaaaaat?" It is mind blowing to us that she can do it so effortlessly and seamlessly. It frustrates us that she does not want to speak outside school but we are letting her set her boundaries, after she refuses to speak in Spanish to us, we say things like,"We are so proud that you are learning Spanish and we love to hear you speak. We know you will show us how well you can speak when you are ready." We are trying not to push it. But then we get cards for Valentine's day and Mother's Day from her written in Spanish and she will read them to us. Sometimes we act like we have no clue what a word means in order to coax her into reading it to us. Honestly, we could not be happier.

The school that houses her Spanish immersion school is a nice school, with good people and it is a mix of African American and Hispanic and very few white families. I am so glad we chose it. She has made good friends and there are only nine kids in her class this year. A few more may join in first grade but she will have this small class until sixth grade. This fall they are opening a World Languages Academy that all of the Spanish immersion students in the school district will have the option to attend. It will go through high school. They will introduce another language in sixth grade. The cherry on top is that it happens to be right in our neighborhood! My mother-in-law said a few days ago that she was getting a better education than her other grandchildren who are attending the most expensive and highly acclaimed private schools here in Fort Worth. We recommend Spanish Immersion to everyone! At the beginning I thought, "Well if she only learns to speak a little Spanish and nothing else I will teach her to tell time and whatever else they do in kindergarten. Well, she has far surpassed that! There is no way I could do multiplication in Spanish!

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Francesca is a mother of two, learning to do homework in Spanish along with her daughter. She teaches preschool at a part-time homeschool.

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