SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Sioux Falls School District’s Spanish Immersion Program is growing. More than 1,500 students are currently enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12th grade — doubling what it was just five years ago.

The program started in 2008 with only one kindergarten section at Rosa Parks Elementary. This spring, the district will graduate its third cohort of seniors from the program.

At Sonia Sotomayor Elementary, learning in Spanish is the norm. However, it took a while to make the Spanish Immersion Program what it is today.

“It’s developed over the years to move around to different locations within the district and finally landing in one one-way immersion program at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary, and we have two two-way immersion spots at Rosa Parks and Hayward Elementary, and then they progress into the middle school at Edison and into Lincoln High School,” said Kirk Zeeck, SFSD Director of Federal Programs & World Language Immersion.

In the one-way immersion model, students in kindergarten learn 90% of their classes in Spanish. The two-way immersion model includes half English and half Spanish.

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) did a report this past year. Those findings were presented to the school board Monday night, showing a need for expansion.

“As we see these two-way immersion students growing into fourth grade and fifth grade, then there’s going to be more students in the Spanish Immersion Program that will end up in the middle school level, and we’re now planning what will that look like as far as continuing at Edison or expanding to other middle schools,” Zeeck said.

Allison Pay Crawford’s 10th grade daughter has been in the program since kindergarten.

“The ability to learn Spanish as well as English and be able to bilingual for the rest of her life was going to be a huge gift,” she said.

Pay Crawford says she is also a part of the Parent Advocates for Spanish Immersion Group (PASI), which works closely with the school district. She praises the schools for being so supportive and helping her daughter become bilingual.

“It’s interesting because she will run into people who speak Spanish and will start launching into Spanish, and people are amazed that she, who is a kid from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, speaks Spanish so well,” she said.

If parents are interested in enrolling their kids, they are encouraged to reach out to their elementary school’s principal.

You can also find the full report presented Monday night at the school board meeting attached here. You can also see an executive summary of the report.