The Sioux Falls School District's first class of Spanish Immersion students will graduate this spring, and parents and students are praising the program's success.
The district's school board heard report from school officials at Monday night's meeting about how the program, which opened in one elementary school in 2008, has gone for the last 13 years. And that included first-hand accounts from those about to cross the stage.
From its inception in 2008, the program’s first kindergarten class included 25 students at Rosa Parks Elementary School. Now, those students are graduating from high school, and the district boasts five schools and more than 1,100 students in the program.
Elizabeth Jerstad, a high school senior, said she organized a group of high school students to help peer mentor some of the youngest students in the program during the COVID-19 pandemic this year. She’s excited to see where the program will go in the future, and encourages more parents to put their students in the immersion program, she said.
Grant Graber, a high school senior and student in the immersion program, said his time in the Spanish Immersion program will help him with his future career as a nurse.
Shannon Graber, a leading parent in the pioneer group of Spanish Immersion students and parents, said she was grateful the district made the “bold choice” in 2008 to start the program.
“You gave our children the gift of bilingualism, something many of us parents could not have done,” Graber said.
There are three ways students can partake in Spanish Immersion in the district: two-way immersion, the Spanish Heritage Program and Spanish language immersion, said Kirk Zeeck, the district’s director of federal programs and world language.
Spanish language immersion takes place at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary School and allows students whose first language is English to become bilingual and bi-literate in Spanish. Students can continue Spanish immersion at Edison Middle School and Lincoln High School.
Two-way immersion teaches bilingualism and bi-literacy in both Spanish and English for Spanish-speaking and English-speaking children. Balanced numbers of native speakers learn together to read, write, speak and listen in both languages. This program is at both Rosa Parks and Hayward elementary schools.
The Spanish Heritage Language Program supports native Spanish-speaking students who have some proficiency in, or a cultural connection to, the Spanish language through community, family or country of origin. This program is at Edison Middle School and all four high schools, including the new Jefferson High School.
The district employs Spanish-speaking teachers and interns from the U.S. as well as Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela.
More than a dozen interns from multiple countries work with teachers to help students learn proper dialects. The interns have education backgrounds and are vetted by Amity International and the district’s human resources department.
Annual expenses to host each intern is approximately $5,000, Zeeck said, and their stay is made possible through funding from the Parent Advocates for Spanish Immersion (PASI) organization.