For several students at Benjamin Banneker and Lulu Ross Elementary Schools, coming back to school will mean more than learning a new set of school and classroom rules, it will mean learning a new language. The Spanish Immersion classes that started at Morris Early Learning Center last year has now begun its expansion into primary schools as students are challenged to learn all subjects in both English and Spanish. Aimed at helping kids learn instruction in two languages, the program started last year as over 50 students at Morris Early Childhood Center were able to take part in the program.
Students at Banneker will learn Spanish from Señora La Ragione for half of each day and English from Mrs. Johnson for half of each day as both teachers partner to ensure students are learning each subject in each language. Although La Ragione has been teaching for seven years, this will be her first year teaching in her mother language, Spanish.
“I am beyond thrilled that I have the opportunity to share my knowledge, cultural heritage, and experiences with seven year olds in my mother language and in an English speaking setting,” said La Ragione. “Being able to communicate with my students in Spanish and watching them make use of the language as we progress throughout the year is without a doubt what I am most excited for.”
La Ragione states that learning an additional language at such a young age is beneficial as young children pick up languages much quicker than adults and their accents will become more natural as they speak the Spanish language. “Learning a foreign language at a young age through a full immersion program, rather than an hour a day or weekly is the best approach to become fluent in the new language,” she said.
Immersion programs have been proven to improve children’s creativity, mental flexibility, pattern recognition and problem-solving skills. La Ragione believes that in an increasingly globalized world, youth that acquire foreign languages will beneficial as adults, especially those that learn the Spanish language. “There are 400 million Spanish speakers world-wide and more than 33 million in the United States, making it the second largest language spoken in our country,” said La Ragione. “Young children’s ability to understand Spanish will enable them to gain important insights that monolinguals can’t as well as help keep their memories sharp.”
Through last year’s immersion program at Morris, families have discovered that although students are challenged, they are excited and have fun learning two languages when they receive support and engagement from home. “If you want to be actively engaged in your child’s learning, helping with homework and/or assisting your child through the learning process can be very challenging,” said La Ragione. “Luckily, many educational, and fun, resources are available, including books, language-learning software, and word games. It can be challenging for both students and families, but it can also be a lifelong rewarding experience.”
One key to success in the Spanish Immersion program is for kids to have fun says La Ragione. “When trying to teach children, the most natural approach is to do it through games and play. There are lots of different games both digital and physical that parents can use to reinforce the learning that happens in the classroom,” she said. “My advice to parents is to always remember that the key to success is to allow children to have fun while learning.”
By the end of this year, students in these immersion classes will be able to communicate through reading, writing, listening and speaking Spanish.