Officials: World Language Immersion program a success

 

 

DOVER — The World Language Immersion program began in 2012 as a job-focused program. Since then, it has grown in ways the original proponent of the idea did not even picture.

Just take Abigail LaMotte and her family. Two years ago, they traveled to China to adopt a child.

While many Americans visiting China would have faced a language barrier, the LaMottes already spoke a good deal of Mandarin — or rather, their daughter did. Abigail, who is now in third grade, used what she learned in the World Language Immersion Program to connect with and comfort her new brother during the trip.

“One of my proudest moments as a parent was watching my 7-year-old daughter walk up and down a bus stuck in traffic singing songs in Mandarin to comfort the newly adopted children that had no way to communicate with their parents,” her mother, Andrea, said Tuesday.

The LaMottes shared their story during an assembly at W.B. Simpson Elementary School celebrating the program, which started small.

The initiative originally included 340 kindergartners in three school districts learning Mandarin or Spanish. Now, it has expanded to about 2,100 students in 11 districts. Come fall, it will serve another 900 pupils.

For students at participating schools, the day is split in two. Portions of language arts, science, social studies and math are taught in English, while the remainder is taught in Mandarin or Spanish, with a different teacher providing instruction.

The goal is for the learners to become proficient in the language by fourth grade.

In ninth grade, they will be able to pass the Advanced Placement exam for the language in question, according to a timetable set forth by the state.

The initiative was started with an eye on training Delawareans to enter a rapidly expanding career market where competition comes not just from around the country but from around the world.

Since then, however, the program has become “so much more” than a plan to improve job prospects, Education Secretary Steven Godowsky said.

Gov. Jack Markell, who pushed to launch the immersion curriculum, said it has grown beyond what he hoped for.

“I had the opportunity to go upstairs to visit one of the third-grade classes, and I was amazed, absolutely amazed, to think that by next year, the fourth-graders, they’ll be proficient,” he said.

Behind Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald, the Caesar Rodney School District embraced the program, with J. Ralph McIlvaine Early Childhood Center becoming the first school to offer Chinese immersion.

The initial learners will be able to continue in the immersion course as they enter middle school in three years.

In the 2016-2017 school year, 25 teachers from China or Spain will visit to help teach students about the language and culture of their country.

For that year, three districts will provide Chinese immersion, while nine will have Spanish programs. The Caesar Rodney School District will be the only one with both.

Students entering kindergarten in the district can request one language over another, although there is no guarantee they will be selected for their preferred option.

Tuesday, many elementary-schoolers appeared eager to show off their skills, singing the Caesar Rodney District alma mater in multiple languages. A few students even introduced themselves to the audience in Mandarin or Spanish, impressing the officials present.

W.B. Simpson principal Mike Kijowski called the immersion a “true blessing.”

“It’s so inspiring to see the kids each day just progress,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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