Eye on KELOLAND: Dual immersion


In school, students are taught many subjects from math and science to reading.

And now some are getting the chance to learn how to make connections through other languages.

At first glance, this may seem like your typical Kindergarten class at Hayward Elementary School.

It’s actually one of the first dual-immersion classes in Sioux Falls.

“It’s immersive in two ways because it’s immersive for the students who mainly speak Spanish in the English setting, and it’s immersive for the students who mainly speak English in a Spanish setting,” Spanish dual immersion teacher Zulema Meza said.

Zulema Meza was born in Sioux Falls, but grew up speaking her native language, Spanish.

“My parents are from Mexico, so it’s kind of like a situation with a lot of these students… are in. They’re born here, their parents speak Spanish at home mostly, just Spanish with little English,” Meza said.

She teaches all subjects from science to math all in Spanish.

While right next door, DeeDee Jessen teaches kids those same subjects in English for English learning students.

“Our goal between the two classrooms is to be very fluid and be very consistent with how we present things,” Jessen said.

They’re often working together to develop a curriculum that kids walk away learning equal amounts both languages.

Meza speaks strictly in Spanish in her half of the classroom.

“It’s a part of the routine. So when you hear it every day, you hear, ‘Bathroom break’ every day, or ‘line up’ every day, and when you mix it in the with curriculum and make it a part of the content they get so much more vocabulary than you would get even just as a heritage speaker leaning at home,” Meza said.

According to the Sioux Falls School District, since 2009, the district has seen a large increase in the number of Spanish-speaking students.

That’s led them to develop the full Spanish-immersion school, Sonya Sotomayor.

“That has been so popular and we’re seeing so much demand for students to become bi-lingual and bi-literate, the numbers of our Spanish dominant students in Sioux Falls has been rising over the years,” SFSD Director of Federal Programs Ann Smith said.

Students in the Sioux Falls School District currently speak 90 languages, but Spanish is the second most spoken language within the district.

Beyond learning two languages, students are also learning another important lesson: How to connect with others.

“I think one of the best parts about it is that it’s cross-cultural. You have students interacting with each other, mixing with each other, and the friendships that they create and the bonds that they make improve the language skills too so there’s a huge beneficial side of it,” Meza Said.

“Giving them the opportunity to learn language at such a young age is key for their future. It helps them open up the doors for so many possibilities when they have two languages,” Jessen said.

“And the students, kind of, become each other’s teachers. Because then you have those role models for both languages,” Smith said.

Learning a second language of any kind can actually help kids out as they get older.

“On the other end of the spectrum, with older people, what they talk about is that one of the things that can help stave off Alzheimers is learning a second language because developing that language, because developing that bilingual ability just fires off more parts of your brain,” Smith said.

There are currently 1,104 Spanish-speaking English learners in the district and 650 of them are in grades K-5.

Every year that number continues to grow, and so do the possibilities.

“I think it’s really cool to be able to keep those skills in their native language and grow those skills and at the same time improve on a second language,” Meza said.

Right now, dual immersion is only at Hayward Elementary and Rosa Parks Elementary. Eventually the district is hoping to expand and offer this opportunity to more students.

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