Language immersion programs are growing in popularity across the country. The Robbinsdale School District has been operating a Spanish immersion magnet school since the 1980s. Today about 750 students in grades K-5 attend Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion, which used to be the old Sunny Hollow Elementary School.
"It’s a great, fun place for us to be," says principal Elaine Mehdisadeh. "We get the joy of watching children who never spoke a word of Spanish in kindergarten to understanding what we are saying to them in Spanish by about the sixth week of school. They understand what we are saying in Spanish and they speak back to us in English."
Speaking Spanish begins right away in kindergarten. The school operates using a 90/10 model, where students speak Spanish 90 percent of the time, which is what they would experience in a Spanish-speaking country. In second grade, students begin learning English literacy 30 minutes a day. English literacy increases gradually to 75 minutes a day by the fifth grade. Spanish-speaking interns make difference
Kindergarten teacher Molly Quinn has been teaching at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion
since the magnet program began more than 30 years ago.
"It was brand new and very exciting," remembers Quinn. "People weren’t exactly sure what we were signing up for. It was myself and one other teacher."
Quinn says she often acts out what she wants her kindergarteners to do and they catch on very fast. Assisting her in the classroom is an intern named Monica Martinez, who is from El Salvador. The internship program at RSI is very unique. Ten interns from Spanish-speaking countries who are already teachers or are college students studying education help out at the school. The program is funded by the PTO and local families are responsible for housing the students. Other families volunteer to help with transportation.
Teachers often teach in thematic units. In a fourth-grade science class, students talked about the water cycle, did experiments for science class, and then read a book about it in English for literacy.
There are many facets of education at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion where students and teachers try to engage and educate about the world at large. One of the most rewarding parts of education is when the language truly clicks and students don’t recall when they couldn’t speak Spanish.
"It challenges both sides of the brain and just opens up the world to our children," says principal Mehdisadeh. "We live in a global society and it opens so many doors for our kids and opportunities."
Shannon Slatton, firstname.lastname@example.org
on Twitter: @sslatton