Students “learn with experience, rather than by rules,” in Puesta del Sol’s Spanish Immersion program, said fifth grade teacher Toni Marquez.
Next school year will mark the successful program’s 29th anniversary. With 80-90 percent of instruction in all grade levels in the Spanish language, students are becoming proficient bilingual speakers by the time they graduate fifth grade. As they continue with the program in middle and high school, the benefits are shown in test scores.
In 2014, district students in the Spanish Immersion program had a passing rate of 97 percent on the AP Spanish Literature and Culture test. Likewise in 2014, Spanish Immersion students who took the AP Spanish Language test had a 93 percent passing rate. In spring 2014, the students in the Spanish Immersion program amassed 630 University of Washington credits, which amounted to more than $173,000 in tuition savings.
The long term benefits continue after graduation, and the program aligns with district goals. “This is, I think, what the district wants – life skills and career ready.” said Marquez. “This is everything the district wants; enrichment where it’s rigorous. We’re challenging students.”
Students are responsive to the program too, and see the benefits of immersion. Fifth grader, Julia Rees likes the immersion program because of the great staff and students. She also enjoys some fun Spanish games that she has learned. Kai Barnum, also in fifth grade, loves the program because of the opportunity it offers to make new friends.
The key to success is creating situations where students speak, rather than a teacher lecturing the entire class, said Marquez. “We’ve learned how to get kids to speak and use the language, not just be sedentary listeners. That’s our big goal,” she said.
“We’ve gotten clearer on our purpose, and therefore better at doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Marquez who has been with the program for 27 years. “We’ve learned a lot – what works and what doesn’t work, and we’ve been highly successful.”
Because the program has been around for so many years, and it has worked out many challenges that new programs encounter, it is seen as established, said Principal Jonathan Shearer. With the program’s proven success and highly supportive staff, it has become a leader in the area of language immersion education.
Students begin learning the language from day one. As vocabulary is increased the teacher uses similar words, and congruent actions for the students to grasp the new word and/or concept. They learn by being immersed in the language, rather than by the rules of the language.
Similarly, when students struggle explaining an idea that they may not have the vocabulary for, they attempt to explain the word using their hands and movements, said fifth grader Kai Barnum.
Students at Puesta del Sol encourage others to enroll in the program. Rees said, “I think that it is a very well done program!”