The Spanish immersion program for kindergarten and first grade students at Madison Elementary School is ready for the upcoming school year. “Things are going well; I have spent the whole summer getting ready for the new year,” said Erin Weisenbeck, who will teach the Spanish immersion class for first grade. “I’m very excited for the school year and for kids to learn.”
Madison’s Spanish immersion program is the first of its kind for Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS), which will be just one of three districts within the Big 9 Conference that has an immersion program. “Rochester is also starting [an immersion program] in the fall, and Northfield has one, but it is a little different than what our program is going to be,” explained Madison Elementary School Principal Mark Winter, who also noted that most of the immersion schools in Minnesota are at metro area schools.
Northfield, which will re-join the Big 9 Conference this fall, currently has a Spanish immersion program that runs on a model that has 50 percent of the instruction in Spanish and 50 percent in English. Madison’s program is being called a 90/10 model, meaning that 90 percent of instruction will be in Spanish, with the remaining 10 percent in English. However, Winter said the program will not be quite that Spanish intensive. “It’s probably not quite 90 percent, but that is what it is being called, as opposed to [a program that has] a specialist class in Spanish,” Winter explained. A specialist class is one that is taught outside of the regular grade-school classroom by a specialist in a particular field, such as art or music.
Students in Madison’s program will read, write and speak in Spanish for the core classes such as math and reading, while specialist classes such as gym and health will be taught in English. “It’s regular kindergarten curriculum, but everything will be done in Spanish,” said Darlene Centeno, who will teach Spanish immersion for kindergarten. “So about 90 percent of the day will be in Spanish, but with specialist classes in English.”
Students will not focus on reading and writing in English until the third grade. At a Spanish immersion informational meeting earlier this year, parents voiced their concerns over waiting until the third grade to teach immersion students how to read and write in English. However, Weisenbeck explained that third grade is the correct time to introduce English to the program, citing the introduction of additional structure to basic sentences, which includes learning about nouns, verbs and pronouns. “Basically from research that we’ve looked at, [with] bi-learning — learning another language first — students catch on to phonics more easily,” she said.
In preparation for the new program, Weisenbeck and Centeno have attended workshops throughout the summer and translated much of the curricula from English to Spanish. For Weisenbeck, who taught first grade at Goodview this past school year, the most difficult part of preparation has been finding resources. “I just think there aren’t as many resources available [for Spanish immersion classrooms] compared to regular English classrooms,” she said. “But we have been able to overcome it. I’ve taken English resources and translated them into Spanish.”
In addition to translating English-based curricula into Spanish, Centeno, who recently graduated from Saint Mary’s University with a degree in elementary education and Spanish, said that WAPS has provided the program with a miniature Spanish library. “[We have] about 40 books in class for kids to look at and read,” she explained.
For Centeno, who grew up in a Spanish-English bilingual household, the Spanish immersion program at Madison is an exciting learning opportunity to help prepare WAPS students for the future. “The district has been very helpful,” she said. “I’m excited to see this new generation of kindergarten and first grade students and where being bilingual takes them.”
The first-grade Spanish immersion class still has a couple available spots. To learn about joining the program visit http://www.winona.k12.mn.us/page/3062.