Indiana: Spanish language schools offer unique opportunities

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 12 21:24:21 UTC 2006

Forwarded from edling-list

Spanish-language schools offer students unique opportunities

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Like many children entering kindergarten, Alex Huettl
wasn't sure what to expect on his first day of school. His mother had
explained the unique program he would enter at Forest Glen Elementary. But
the boy was still shocked when he heard his teacher speak to the class
only in Spanish. "He was like, 'I don't understand what the teacher was
saying,'" Sue Huettl recalled. "But he caught on really quick. It's
amazing how quickly they pick up on that language." Forest Glen is one of
39 certified International Spanish Academies, schools in the United States
and Canada that partner with the Ministry of Education and Science in

Elementary schools in the program provide at least half of all
instruction, including math, science and other subjects, in Spanish. At
the high school level, at least 30 percent of instruction is in Spanish.
Proponents say the programs are unique. In Indiana, only 2 percent of
elementary school students study a world language at all, compared with
about 10 percent of middle school students and 44 percent of high school
students, according to the state Department of Education. At Forest Glen,
about 280 of the school's 700 students participate in the immersion
program. The other students get 30 minutes of Spanish each day. The
immersion method can be intimidating for parents. Some say it's strange to
hear a child reading in Spanish before English. Helping with homework can
be difficult when instructions are in Spanish.

Supporters say the payoffs outweigh the inconveniences. Students are
bilingual, perform well in English, become independent learners and have
the advantage of a second language when they reach adulthood and look for
jobs. "It's crucial that kids know enough Spanish to communicate," said
Linda Murphy, who was leery at first, but is now happy her two children
are in immersion programs. "I told my kids, 'I don't care what you do in
life - having that second language will only help you out.'" Her children
- eighth-grader Amanda and fifth-grader Joseph - learned to do homework on
their own because they couldn't rely on her for guidance, although the
school offers an English homework hotline in case parents need to help
their children, Murphy said. "They learned how to really be
self-learners," she said.

Forest Glen Principal Nikki Woodson said children who go through the
immersion program can read, write, speak and even think like native
Spanish speakers. "Our kids are gaining academic vocabulary. Our kids
leave with native accents," she said. "It's an incredible language
experience." Some students struggle a bit between the two languages at
first, said Adriana Melnyk, coordinator of world languages with the
Indiana Department of Education. Statewide testing scores can be lower in
third grade, Melnyk said, if students are taught solely in Spanish and
then tested in English.

"That's a big concern a lot of people have," she said. "But after that
dip, they're able to make the connections (between the two languages) and
students skyrocket ahead." International Spanish Academies are found in 11
states and Canada. Four schools in Indiana, all in Indianapolis, offer the
programs. The schools have access to resources from the Spanish Ministry
of Education and Science, including visiting teachers from Spain, school
exchanges and classroom materials.

Several other schools in Indiana, including one in Fort Wayne and another
in Indianapolis, offer immersion programs and might apply for the academy
designation in future years, Melnyk said. The Spanish Ministry of
Education and Science expects the program to expand nationwide as interest
grows, said Gisela Conde, with the Spanish embassy in Washington, D.C. In
2005, when the program began, 15 schools earned the designation, while 24
were named academies this year. But numbers are limited so that resources
aren't stretched too thin, Conde said. "We don't want this to grow without
control," she said. "We want this to be a quality program."

Alex Huettl, who is now in seventh grade, is continuing with immersion at
Craig Middle School and has also started French classes. Younger brother
Sam, a third-grader, is in the Spanish immersion program at Forest Glen.
"When they're younger, they think it's fun to learn something different,"
Sue Huettl said. "As they get older, they start to realize the advantages
(to knowing Spanish). Having that ability is priceless."


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