By Margaret Amory
June 7, 2017 will mark the end of Milford School District’s first academic year of the Foreign Language Immersion program in kindergarten classes at Morris Early Childhood Center. Through a lottery process, over 50 students at Morris Early Childhood Center were able to take part in the program. Next year it will grow as Milford School District adds additional students from the wait list to first grade classrooms at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School and Lulu Ross Elementary School.
Lynn Fulton-Archer, the Education Specialist for World Language Immersion from the Delaware Department of Education describes this program as “serving the educational needs of students by providing them instruction for half a day in English and the other half of the day in either Spanish or Chinese.” In the immersion classroom in Milford School District the target language is Spanish. Mathematics, science and Spanish language are taught only in Spanish and reading, writing and social studies are taught in English.
Participating in the program, knowing a portion of their child’s school day is with an unfamiliar language, can make some families hesitant as some may think that their child will not be as successful or will perform lower than their peers. However, Sr. Jorge Moreno-Jaen, Spanish teacher for the program, has found that students pick up the language very well.
He explained, “The first three to four weeks of school are the most difficult; because most of the students do not understand Spanish. Hence, a lot of time is spent in establishing routines and clarifying classroom expectations,” Moreno-Jaen stated. “At this point, the students are able to express themselves both ways, written and spoken, by using complete sentences.”
Mrs. Jennifer Hallman, principal at Morris, verified “student performance and data has been showing that the students are doing as well, or better, than their peers, based on the Response to Intervention (RTI) and screening data.” It is generally believed by education specialists that through constant exposure to two languages, the students are able to grasp more concepts and access different levels of thinking to help them succeed in school.
Even though learning a new language can make some parents uncomfortable at first, it is a great opportunity for the students. Jessica Bates, mother of immersion student Juliana shared that “On our weekend adventures Juliana loves to share or interact with the Hispanic community as well as use what she has learned in the immersion program.” Kindergartener Reed Snyder explained that in Spanish they listen a lot and then start to learn new words. He expressed how he enjoys learning new vocabulary so he can write sentences in Spanish.
The current immersion students will participate in the program in the current model through the completion of fifth grade. As they transition to the Milford Central Academy, they will shift their instruction to a variation of core classes. It is the District’s intent that by the time they leave the program they are no longer monolingual and are fluent enough to communicate with the greater Milford community and beyond.
Milford School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson believes that the program has been a great success for students and families involved as well as Morris and the Milford School District. “The program has drawn much interest from families wanting their students to be able to participate in the program,” said Dr. Dickerson. “Students have benefitted from the engaging instructional activities led by our excellent teachers. Students have reaped the benefits of attaining accelerated language acquisition skills, advanced verbal skills and cultural awareness.”
Getting involved in the program can be easy for incoming kindergarteners. When students are registering for kindergarten they are given a form to record their interest in the immersion program. All interested students are placed in a lottery and names are chosen during the summer. Once the lottery has been drawn, the other students are placed on a waiting list in case a student chooses not to participate with the program or relocates to another school district.
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