Five years ago, the Sioux Falls School District began its first Spanish Immersion kindergarten class. The program has since grown, with that first class now starting fourth grade with an even higher level of the Spanish language.
The Spanish Immersion model has become so popular with parents that Rosa Parks Elementary has several students wanting to get in. That popularity has also inspired the YWCA to start a program of its own.
It hasn't been the typical elementary school experience for these students at Rosa Parks Elementary School.
"It is a language program for English proficient children to become bi-lingual and bi-literate," Brenda Hill said.
Five years ago, the Sioux Falls School District started a Spanish Immersion program at the global studies and world language school, beginning with just a kindergarten class. It has since grown to nearly 200 kids in kindergarten through fourth grade. It's become so popular there is a wait list to get in and the school board recently voted to expand the program, adding classes to Robert Frost Elementary.
Now, it's also encouraging other organizations to try something similar.
"When the bar was raised a little bit and parents started seeking that more, we thought it's time to do a preschool and offer that opportunity for parents and children here in our community," Laurie Knutson said.
Knutson is the CEO of the YWCA. She says seeing the interest in the community sparked an idea to give kids that experience at an even earlier age.
"There’s some good research out there that shows that the younger kids are when they start the language, the better chance they have of really creating a strong foundation, that can really carry them along way," Knutson said.
Kids four to five-years-old can now enroll for the program at the downtown YWCA. They will learn in English in the morning and similar to Rosa Parks, they'll learn completely in Spanish in the afternoon.
Pilar Baron, originally from Columbia will be the lead teacher.
"I will be so happy to teach not just the language, but regarding to the culture, everything in general," Baron said.
She will use song, dance and routine to draw students in.
Four-year-old Natalie Welty is one that will get a taste of the new language. Her mom, Wendy Welty says she signed her up to hopefully lead her down a path of wide open doors.
"You are so much more marketable in any business you go into if you're bilingual, I think it's a very big advantage," Wendy said.
Natalie only knows a few numbers and letters in Spanish.
"I think it's going to be a transition at first," Wendy said.
However, Baron says jumping right into the new language and culture is the best way to learn.
"It will be a challenge, but it's a beautiful challenge," Baron said.
"I think it's great and exciting opportunity because it is very popular, we know language development begins very young, so the sooner the better," Hill said.
Rosa Parks Principal Brenda Hill likes the idea of a Spanish Immersion preschool in the community, and hopes it can tie into the district's own program.
And if nothing else, it's a great way to find out if it's a good fit for each child.
So far, Knutson says they are getting a great response parents and they're hoping even more will show an interest.
"We are eager to talk to more families and more parents and make sure we're all on the same page as far as the expectations of such a program, because it can be challenging," Knutson.
But, also rewarding in an ever-changing world.
"This is an opportunity I wish my older children would have had, so I'm very excited about this," Wendy said.
Right now there is a lottery system to get accepted into Rosa Parks Elementary School, so there is no guarantee that the preschoolers will be able to continue with the Spanish Immersion program there.
But, Knutson and Hill say it's still a great opportunity.
You can find more information on the YWCA’s program at its website; you can also call 605-336-3660.