Immersion programs opening up whole new world to students

Published 5:11 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2022

By Emily Burleigh

The Calcasieu Parish School District offers both French and Spanish immersion programs to local students.

Immersion education is a method of instruction that produces a high degree of proficiency in the selected second language.

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In these programs, elementary students spend 60% of their time with a certified world language instructor and 40% with an English teacher. Math, science, and social studies are taught in the second language. This form of instruction allows students to synthesize foreign language studies with traditional education.

The academic benefits of immersion programs speak for themselves. Students that participate in immersion programs outperform non-immersion peers on standardized tests, regardless of background or cognitive or linguistic ability. This data spans from third grade to 12th grade.

Some parents find concern in their children taking standardized tests in English after being taught in a second language. Monique Roberts, World Language and ESL Consultant assures that learning in a second language actually boosts scores.

“Those students are super high performing, and do great on LEAP,”  said Roberts.

Some of the skills that students will gain during immersion education are: increased vocabulary, strengthened grammar in both languages, and increased proficiency in English studies.

To participate, students have to start early. “For immersion, they do have to enter in early elementary. Kindergarten is ideal, because three subjects are taught in that language,” she explained. “You can’t throw a third grade student into math after never being exposed to the vocabulary.”

“Research shows that an older student can learn a second language just as easily as a younger child. However, the social factors come into play,” stated Roberts. “In middle school, you have a hard time getting the students to openly express themselves and be vulnerable in that second language.”

One of the main goals in second-language learning is to create expansive cultural awareness for Calcasieu Parish students.

“We don’t only teach the language, but we also teach the culture,” said Roberts. “We expose the students to different thoughts and areas of the world. We teach customs and cultures that are so different from ours.”

Examples include a World Culture Day at F. K. White Middle, a Fiesta Day at Fairview Elementary, and an immersion celebration at Henry Heights Elementary.

Calcasieu Parish participates in a teacher exchange program through the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) and the Louisiana Department of Education.

“They work together to recruit these certified teachers from their countries that have taught that grade level or that content for a minimum of three years successfully,” Roberts explained.

Exchange teachers hail from countries like France, Belgium, Africa and Canada for French education, and Spain, Mexico, and South America for Spanish education.

Fairview Elementary offers an innovative 2-Way Immersion Program. “It is a whole new caveat to immersion, whereas half the students are native Spanish speakers and half the students are native english speakers,” Roberts said. “Part of the day is totally in Spanish and part of the day is totally in English.”

This program, which began 3 years ago with Kindergarten and 1st grade students, allows Spanish speaking students to experience fully English classes, and vice versa.

“The students serve as language models for one another. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Roberts explained that one of the school boards goals is to get more native English speaking children in Fairview.

“Fairview Elementary doesn’t appear to be a high performing school according to their grade, but they are our site school for the English learners,” explained Roberts. “All of the children who only speak Spanish, maybe even starting in 4th grade, will enroll and have to take the same tests.”

Roberts wants Calcasieu families to know that Fairview is doing a phenomenal job with their immersion program and their English learners.

Middle school immersion students will receive a total of 2 high school credits; one in year 7 and one in year 8. Once the students reach high school, they then have the opportunity to become eligible for dual enrollment credits.

For McNeese, an AP test score of a 3 or 4 will result in credits for French or Spanish 101, 102, and 201. An AP score of a 5 will constitute credits for classes 101 through 301. This will put the student one class away from a foreign language minor.

CLEP test scores of 50 to 62 will result in credits for French or Spanish 101 and 102, while scores of 63 and above will give students credit for classes up to 202.

Immersion students also have the opportunity to earn the Louisiana Seal of Biliteracy after a successful 4 years of high school world language classes.

Immersion programs fill up quickly, so it is suggested that parents register their children by March for the following year. Applications should be submitted to their elementary school of choice.

However, there are still openings at Fairview Elementary, Henry Heights Elementary, and Oak Park Elementary.

Out-of-Zone students can be given a permit to attend schools with immersion programs. Parents are required to provide transportation. If your child is selected, an out-of-zone application must be submitted to Child Welfare and Attendance before May 31.


French Immersion Programs:

Henry Heights Elementary

Gillis Elementary

Prien Lake Elementary

S. J. Welsh Middle

Moss Bluff Middle

Barbe High School

Sam Houston High School


Spanish Immersion Programs:

Frasch Elementary

Oak Park Elementary

Fairview Elementary

Oak Park Middle

W. W. Lewis Middle

Sulphur High School