Full speed ahead for Spanish immersion

Published February 22, 2013, 08:00 AM

Woodbury High School preparing for program to kick off in the fall with 20 students

By: Amber Kispert-Smith

 Woodbury High School English teacher Nancy Schrank knows first hand how beneficial being immersed in language and culture can be.

The summer after Schrank graduated from college, she picked up and moved to Morelia, Mexico. “I sold everything I owned after college and took that money and decided to take a chance,” she said.

Since Schrank had taken French in college, she went into the new environment without any Spanish knowledge. However, within three months, Schrank was speaking Spanish as well as a third-year Spanish student. “I really learned the language through immersion,” she said. “I told myself my goal was not to leave until I could be sitting in a café and read a newspaper, understand conversations, work in the language and be able to contribute to the society – it was probably my proudest accomplishment.”

Schrank spent a total of three years living and working in Mexico as a teacher.

Now, Schrank is helping give high school students a similar experience. She will be teaching one of the advanced Spanish language and culture courses at the high school when the high school Spanish Immersion program kicks off in the fall with 20 students. “Because immersion worked for me, I am a proponent of it,” she said. Spanish Immersion is a program that serves non-Spanish speaking families that live within District 833 boundaries.

The high school offering would be a partial immersion program. Students who complete the K-12 Spanish immersion program will have a designation on their diploma stating so.

The course requirements for students in the high school Spanish immersion program require freshman to take geography and advanced Spanish language and culture. Sophomores will take world history and Spanish language and advanced grammar, while juniors will take United States history and Spanish literature and analysis. The language courses will be very project-based, Schrank said. As seniors, students will take a Spanish humanities course.

Additionally, students will go out into the community and use their language skills with some sort of community service component. “It’s putting them in really meaningful roles that we think will prepare them for the future,” Woodbury High School Principal Linda Plante said. Plante and Schrank said the biggest benefit of immersion programs is that they help with cognitive development in all subject areas. Additionally, they said the programs also provide increased opportunities after high school.

“Their unique voice comes through, so it’s no longer a foreign language to them, it’s a second language,” Schrank said. “This is a global economy, so we can no longer just think in terms of the United States,” Plante said. “We must think globally.” Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, whose son is currently a sixth grader in the Spanish immersion program, said she is excited to see the program reach the high school level next fall.

“I’m really thrilled,” she said. “It’s such an exciting prospect because moving into high school completes that pathway – it’s such a stepping stone.” Kent said she opted to enroll her son in Spanish immersion when he was in kindergarten because it would open his eyes to the world. “It helps make the planet seem a little smaller,” she said.

Additionally, Kent said Spanish immersion will help prepare her son to live and work in a global environment in the future. “Plus, this gives kids something that is their own,” she said. “They have something that is a very specific skill.” Woodbury resident Allison Olson, who has a sixth grader, third grader and kindergartener in Spanish immersion, said she likes the edge being biligual will have for her children.

“I wanted to give them the competitive edge in the world,” she said. Olson said she would like to see the Spanish immersion program reach out to global businesses, like 3M, for opportunities for students. Plante said next fall is going to ensure Spanish immersion’s success.

“When the doors open next year, it’s here, it’s solid, it’s in place and there won’t be the question marks any longer,” Plante said. “I’m looking forward to that.”

Augusto Restrepo

Augusto is the founder of Spanish for America, and a Spanish Instructor based in the United States. He is a professional translator and business language consultant, who focuses on the correct use of the Spanish language for advertising, media, promotional campaigns, television and radio. He also advises individuals and businesses on new structures for intercultural relationships with Spanish Language communities, countries and markets.

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