For the first time, students in the popular Spanish Immersion Program in Sioux Falls are headed to Middle School.
The ground-breaking language program began in 2008 when a group of kindergarteners stepped into a Spanish-only classroom.
Now, they're making the transition to Edison Middle School where they are facing new challenges while remaining a tight-knit group.
"It's a big change for them, coming from elementary school where things are a little bit slower, teachers take care of them. But here it's a lot of content and we have to move and keep going," Spanish Immersion Teacher Eddier Montoya said.
"It's fun but it's also a little challenging," Anika Nelson said.
Since the beginning, teachers insisted every word spoken had to be Spanish. It was difficult at first for the students who had a tough learning curve. But their hard work has paid off.
The students' college-level proficiency surprised their new teacher.
"Amazed," Montoya said. "You can have a conversation like talking with a native speaker."
"It sort of feels like second nature," Elizabeth Jerstad said. "Spanish is like, I don't need to think about what I'm going to say or write or read because we've been studying it for so long and it's so easy."
"Sometimes outside with my friends, I just start speaking Spanish on accident," Anna Kidman said.
For their entire education, all of the classes were taught in their second language. Now that the group has moved to middle school, they are learning some subjects in English, like health and language arts.
It's the biggest transition for Anika Nelson who admits it's a little strange speaking English in class.
"In math class, since we've been learning it for six years (in Spanish) the vocabulary is a little different. So it's kind of weird getting transferred to different words," Nelson said.
"It's not exactly always easy but it is more fun because you get to interact with other students who you've never met before and make new friends," Jerstad said.
At first, the Spanish Immersion program was supposed to end after 5th grade. But parents like Shannon Graber are pushing to see the program reach high-school.
"I want this to be a K-12 program. We've always kind of talked about that and the district seems to have that vision as well. We've seen it supported here. As much as we can keep those kids retaining the language because it's at such a high level, you don't want them to lose it," Graber said.
There are some proven benefits to children learning a second language early. Montoya says it helps the students excel in other classes.
"All of them think outside the box. They are able to create solutions and you get amazed with the answers," Montoya said.
This program is completely by choice, parents must sign their children up for it. For more information on the program visit the Sioux Falls School District's website.
Rosa Parks Elementary also has a FLES program, which stands for Foreign Language in Elementary School. Each day a teacher goes into every traditional classroom and teaches a 15 minute Spanish lesson.
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