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Dual Lanuguage Immersion: A Parent Perspective

Dual Language Immersion

One of the awesome programs offered by Union County Public Schools (UCPS) is the Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Program. This program starts in the Kindergarten year and continues mainly through 5th grade offering immersion options in either Spanish or Mandarin. There are some extension options in middle schools and high schools with the goal of completing the Interpreter Certificate Program (Spanish only) in your immersion language (CCP). The key to this program is the immersion part of the DLI as there have been many studies that show that immersion is the best way to learn a language for children and even adults. I would like to take this blog to talk about all of the benefits of this program that I have seen from my two children having been in the program for four years.


Basic Terms:

One-Way Immersion -- One-way immersion is intended for students who speak English at home and are all learning the program language for the first time (whether Spanish (S) or Mandarin (M)). The language is used to teach all subjects (math, science, and language arts). English instruction is not introduced until second grade. Specials (art, music, PE, CORE, media arts, computer) are all taught in English from the start.

        Schools Offered: Antioch (S), Kensington (S, M), Marvin* (M), New Town (S), Poplin (S), Rea View (S), Sandy Ridge (S), Shiloh Valley Primary (S), Shiloh Valley Elementary (S), Unionville (S),  Weddington (S), Western Union (S)

*Some English taught in Kindergarten and 1st grade


Two-Way Immersion -- Two-way immersion brings together students who speak Spanish at home with students who learn English at home. These students bolster their home language skills and each learn English or Spanish as a new language.


         Schools Offered: East, Marshville, Porter Ridge, Walter Bickett, Wingate


Application Process -- The first thing in the application process is to register your child in your home school. From there the application for immersion programs will open on March 11th. You will get notified of which schools accept your application by April 29th and will have to make a choice by May 6th. The application process is a lottery and you can apply to as many of the schools as you wish. Note that if the school is outside your home school you will need to provide transportation of your child to and from school. This lottery process is only for rising Kindergarteners. For students who wish to enter the DLI program that are older than kindergarten, there are specific requirements that need to be met (requirements) and the student will need to prove that the ability to read, write, speak, and listen in the program language is equal to the grade they are trying to enter.


How the Lottery Works -- The first preference is given to students from the host school's attendance zone or siblings of kids already in the program. If the class is not yet filled, spots are opened up to the second preference -- the host school's cluster (think of this as all of the elementary schools that feed into a middle school). Third preference is given to students from across the county who have an approved transfer from the UCPS central office. If you aren't offered a spot, you will be placed on the waitlist. The waitlist is utilized when students who were already offered a spot decline that spot.



DLI Program from my view:


I currently have two children in the one-way immersion DLI Spanish program at Weddington Elementary. My eldest is finishing her 3rd grade year, and my youngest is finishing kindergarten. The very first thing that I would recommend, before getting into my experience, is to attend all of the information sessions regarding the DLI programs. I would also recommend, if you have the time, to attend these sessions at each school to which you are planning to apply to gain comfort with all schools. There is an informational recording that gives a thorough overview of the general practice as well which is useful. Also, I need to mention that my wife taught Spanish at the high school level for ten years, however, I, on the other hand, do not know much Spanish beyond trying to remember Spanish III from high school. Thus, while we have advantages the typical family may not have in this program, I do not feel it has changed our child's experience within the program.


I would also like to point out to BREATH. This is an exciting time, no doubt, for your child and you. Your little kid is growing up quickly and is ready for kindergarten. This is one of the best times of life and one that you may have memories of going through. I would encourage you to share these memories with your rising kindergarteners (I know I still yearn for mid-day naps from my kindergarten experience). This time also comes with a lot of information and, to be clear, no decision you make now is a wrong choice. So be positive and excited, especially around your child, as this is going to be a big change for them. 


As far as our personal experience, it has been an amazing one to watch. My eldest child started during the fall of the pandemic and, to put it mildly, we were really scared about the transition. I think the tension was magnified because we saw all of the amazing work the kindergarteners already did before the pandemic in the informational sessions (which were in February before the world shut down). However, I have to give it to the teachers as I feel she was doing all of the same amazing things at nearly the same time the following Spring. Around the Spring your kindergartener will most likely be writing full sentences and giving small presentations in the immersive language. Amazing right?!?!? It is amazing to see the same process with our youngest working in the same way. She can read books, understand simple stories, and count to 100 in two languages. For those of you, like me, who remember learning a language in high school/college, this is totally a different experience. They are not conjugating verbs in kindergarten nor are they learning sentence structure. Through various fun activities, they are learning how to write formulaic sentences with specific phrases - I have, I am, I can, I like, I love, It is, It has -- to help them express themselves. The immersion approach allows a child to learn the language the same way that your child has learned to communicate with you in English. To join them in class and see them communicate with each other in another language is so amazing.


From a math, science, and social studies point of view, learning does not skip a beat. The process of learning math and science in the immersive language is the same as learning it in English.  I believe that my daughters are exactly where they need to be in their learning of these subjects. 


As far as learning English, we were told many times that my child would not be taught English language concepts until second grade. This is more scary than it seems. Through the first two years, all of the kids are learning how to learn a brand new language so those skills are easily applied to doing the same in English. We tried, as well, to read to our kiddos in English at bedtime each night and as our kiddos grew in school we also mixed in Spanish reading as required by the teacher which might have helped. Further, your child will be getting instruction in English during all specials as PE, music, art, etc. teachers are not instructing in Spanish. With that said, I can only give this perspective as a part of a one-way immersion program. Please note the difference referenced above in the basic terms. 


I think the biggest surprise to me with each of my kids is the fact homework STARTS in kindergarten. The homework in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd grade was surprisingly easy to understand even for this dad who doesn't know much Spanish. The teacher resources provided are made specifically for the parent who doesn't know the language and they are plentiful. Further, there are a ton of resources provided through the help of assistant teachers and others who are there to help kids who need assistance in the process. From my experience as a parent, I could easily plug into the process to practice for Spanish spelling tests or help my child read (even with my child making fun of my "accent").  


In sum, if you are asking whether your child is ready for a program like this, I would say yes. To be clear, I feel that if your child is ready for kindergarten your child should be ready for an immersion program. The benefits of learning another language open up worlds of possibility and even make the actual brain better. As a parent, it will also give you a chance to be a student again and learn with your child (if you do not already know the language) which will add mental health benefits by bringing the whole family together in the learning process. I know I need to start catching up before my entire family can speak around me. 

If you have any questions about the program from this blog, please feel free to reach out to me or the Union County Education Foundation. Any information you need from UCPS on the DLI program can be found here. Hasta la proxima vez!