9/21/13 Spanish immersion students get the best of two worlds

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South Graham Elementary on Friday held a Latino Independence Day celebration by the Splash! Spanish Immersion program students. Students performed authentic songs and dances from four different countries — Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia and Guatemala — for the entire school to enjoy.

Sam Roberts / Times-News

South Graham Elementary on Friday held a Latino Independence Day celebration by the Splash! Spanish Immersion program students. Students performed authentic songs and dances from four different countries — Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia and Guatemala — for the entire school to enjoy.

Spanish immersion students get the best of two worlds
Program is only one of its kind in Alamance County
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 9/21/13  
Reprinted with permission.


   GRAHAM — For more than 160 students at South Graham Elementary School, every day is different.

   One day class is in English and the next in Spanish.

   The Splash! Spanish Immersion program is what Principal Elizabeth Price calls a 50-50 immersion program. Half the students are native Spanish speakers and the other half native English speakers — the teachers, too, Price said.

   “I wanted something that would fi t my population because I have about 35 percent Latino kids,” Price said, “and this is the best kind of (English as a second language training).”

   There are two immersion classes for every grade from kindergarten through third grade. Price said the program started four years ago when students now in third grade started kindergarten. Each year the program has added another grade.

   Price recruits her Spanish-speaking teachers through Visiting International Faculty, a Chapel Hill company sponsoring teachers from more than 70 countries to teach in 10 states. VIF also created the Splash! program.

   This year South Graham has teachers from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Chile and Colombia working in teams with local teachers. Price said she tries to get teachers from different Spanish-speaking countries so the students learn about the different accents, histories and cultures. Students in the immersion program held a Latino Independence Day celebration. Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia and Guatemala, where the Spanish-speaking teachers come from, all celebrate their independence in September or October, Price said.

   The students performed songs and dances from each country and the entire student body wore traditional clothes from those countries.

   The students made their presentations in English and Spanish, Price said, with the native-English speakers doing the Spanish parts and the native-Spanish speakers doing the English parts.

   “I’m real pleased with how the program went today,” Price said Friday. “It did my heart proud to see what they did.”

   Elon Elementary School and Marvin B. Smith Elementary have full Spanish immersion programs, but this is the only 50-50 immersion program in Alamance County, Price said. There are others in the state.

   Price said teaching academics in two languages is a very successful approach, according to the research.

   The third-grade students in the immersion program will take end-of-grade tests for the first time this year, so there are no scores to show how the students are progressing, but Price said results in the benchmark tests they take have been good.