Parent Teacher Magazine Union County Public Schools Sept/Oct 2018 - Page 5

First group of Spanish immersion students prepares to make history again In the fall of 2012, a group of kindergartners made history as they walked into the Spanish immersion classes at Shiloh and Sun Valley elementary schools. They, along with another group of kindergartners at Marvin Elementary, were the first students to enroll in Union County Public Schools’ dual language immersion program -- a thriving, acclaimed and growing program that is now offered in 11 UCPS elementary schools each year. Those kindergartners are now fifth graders who are preparing to make history again as the first students to participate in the district’s Spanish immersion program at Sun Valley Middle. It’s an accomplishment that is not lost on Shiloh Elementary Principal Scott Spencer who has seen firsthand how much the immersion students have grown during their time in the program. “I have been so fortunate to see our current group of fifth graders go through the program since kindergarten, and I have seen these students grow in every possible way,” he said. “They are really like a family, and great friendships have evolved over the years. I can’t begin to imagine where this experience will take our students in their lives.” One thing that many people may not realize about the immersion students, said Shiloh Elementary immersion teacher Camila Carvacho, is that they have done much more than just “learned a new language” during their six years in the program. Academically, the district’s immersion students often perform as well as or even better than their peers on standardized exams. “Yes, my students are also completely proficient in Spanish. But I am also amazed at how much they know about the world and other cultures because of their time in this program,” Carvacho said. “They’ve done more than just learn about Spanish during the past six years. They’ve learned about other cultures, they have a new set of skills, and they are leaving Shiloh with global awareness and as really good citizens.” Sun Valley Elementary immersion teacher Camila Caro said she has also been in awe of her students’ growth over the years, and attributes a lot of their cultural awareness, problem-solving and multitasking skills, and ability to focus to their six years in the dual language program. “People used to think that they just learn Spanish and vocabulary throughout their time in the program – but vocabulary is something they learn in kindergarten. These students are working on literacy, including reading comprehension, writing strategies and other academic skills,” she said. “I am so surprised by their growth. In kindergarten, they didn’t know any foreign language. But now, I don’t have to say a single word in English to them.” Ultimately, their bilingualism and cognitive gains are expected to set the students up for success in the future by preparing them for a global society where their skills will give them a competitive edge. However, that’s not what the students are most excited about. Carvacho and Caro said the students don’t look at their time in the program in terms of how it will benefit them but instead are always looking for ways they can use their skills to make a difference in their community and the world. That is exactly what Sun Valley Elementary immersion student Hailey Schleicher was able to do during a recent mission trip to Mexico. The fifth grader was able to provide translation services for the entire group during their trip. “It was really fun being able to use my second language to help people and make new friends,” she said. “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I do know that I want to – I know that I will -- use my second language to make a difference.” To celebrate the culmination of their time in the program, the Sun Valley and Shiloh elementary immersion students participated in a Celebration of Accomplishment on May 23. They showcased their bilingual skills and knowledge of other cultures, received certificates and reflected on their past six years in the program – a time when they made history in UCPS and served as examples for thousands of students who will also participate in immersion programs in the future. They also discussed how, with the experiences they’ve gained and lessons they’ve learned, they will walk into their Spanish immersion classes at Sun Valley Middle next school year prepared to make history again. Parent Teacher Magazine • Sept/Oct 2018 • 3