Kings Beach students get immersed in language | SierraSun.com
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Kings Beach students get immersed in language

Kyle Magin
Sierra Sun

KINGS BEACH ” Maybe it was when Laura Elvrum’s fifth grader was ordering ice cream for a number of for-eign tourists in a Mexican ice cream parlor ” in fluent Spanish ” the Kings Beach Elementary school’s dual immersion program started to pay off.

Maybe it was when the two-way immersion program’s first class, those who were kindergartners in 1999, aced their AP Spanish exams as sophomores at North Tahoe High School, giving them col-lege credit.

Or maybe it was when Alfonso Andrade’s two chil-dren started correcting him on the English he picked up in his work in a restaurant.

Whatever the exact point, parents, teachers and admin-i-strators in the program are ecstatic about its impact on the students of Kings Beach Elementary.

The program immerses all stu-dents who’s parents sign them up for the program in Spanish starting in kindergarten.

Both English and Spanish-native speakers receive an “hola.” They are sent off to recess with a “rapido” instead of a hurry up.

“Some kids are totally ready for it,” said Yvonne Logan, a kinder-garten teacher at KB. “They think it’s like a game to figure out what the teacher is saying.”

When English-native students come up to Logan, confused about what they are hearing, she simply said I know in Spanish, ‘Yo se.’ “A lot of their success depends on the personality of the kid, some kids catch on right away and pick up phrases in the first few months, oth-ers are a little resistant, it depends on the parents,” Logan said. “If mom and dad are enthusiastic about it, the kids just think this is how school is supposed to be and they do fine.

Where I find we have trouble with kids is when mom is all for it and dad isn’t.”

The parents, Logan said, are large-ly similar.

Whether English or Spanish-speaking, they are mostly convinced their children will have a leg up in the world by being bilingual.

“I am super-happy with the pro-gram,” said Andrade, who picked up his English while working in a restaurant and has a third and sixth-grader in the program. “My son, he was starting to lose his Spanish, but the program fixed that and now he is perfect in both languages.”

Andrade said his children now speak with perfect Mexican accents, which Logan said is the dialect the school teaches.

Principal Eileen Fahrner has been at Kings Beach since the program’s inception and said its genesis came in the 1990s when Spanish-native speakers were struggling in school.

“Our teachers did some research on other two-way immersion pro-grams and found it was a great way to improve performance and encour-age integration of students,” Fahrner said.

The program works on a sliding scale, with kindergartners spending about 90 percent of their day in Spanish-only instruction, moving to a 50/50 split by fifth grade.

Fahrner said hiring teachers at times can be a challenge as they are required to have their bilingual, cross-cultural, language and academ-ic development certification (BCLAD). “It’s hard to find them sometimes because that certification is so sought-after, they get scooped up pretty quickly,” Fahrner said.

The program currently has 238 students enrolled out of the 446 who attend Kings Beach.

In a fourth grade math class stu-dents do about half their work in Spanish and half in English. As their teacher gives the students a problem ” figure out the “area” and “perimetro” of a “rectangulo”” the youngsters scribble furiously on small dry-erase boards before yelling “yo tengo” (I have it).

Numbers are repeated in Spanish, and each time a student strays from the language “Kevin, stop talking to me” the teacher corrects with a strict “No, Espanol” and the students resume their complaints in Spanish.

When the teacher answers with a “yes,” her students perk up.

“Awwwww, Espanol,” they say, before their teacher offers an apology and a laugh, “lo siento.”

Elvrum said she was impressed when her fifth grader was able to translate an ice cream menu in Mexico.

“It’s great, we just took a vacation to Mexico and he was totally fluent, it’s really worth it,” Elvrum said.

It’s a refrain Fahrner said she’s familiar with.

“We have parents all the time come to us and say their students are being com-plimented on their Spanish and their perfect accents when they are in Mexico,” Fahrner said.

Logan said some parents are initially nervous about the class.

“Some Spanish-speaking parents are worried their child won’t pick up English that easily,” Logan said. “But that’s not the case, because while Spanish is the lan-guage of instruction, English is the language of the class-room. The students all grow up watching T.V. in English and most of the students speak English to each other, the English-native speakers really help the Spanish-speakers work on their English and vice-versa.”

She said she’s only had a small handful of students who were unable to cope with the class and needed to transfer out of the program and to Kings Beach’s English-only instruction.

Molly Mellor, a parent of third-grader Jacqueline Mellor who is in the pro-gram, said she had some early reservations after enrolling her daughter in first grade.

“During her first grade year I became unexpectantly concerned as to whether or not she would learn to read English,” Molly Mellor said in an e-mail to the Sun. “My husband and I had always read to our daughter a great deal but never did we intro-duce English phonics. She did learn English reading almost more holistically and suddenly and is an excellent reader in both English and Spanish.”

Andrade said he’d counsel parents who are nervous or critical of the program to think again.

“I had no worries about the program, but for parents who worry their kids won’t learn English, I’d say that’s not the problem,” Andrade said. “Both of my children speak perfect English and picked it up really easily.”

Logan said there’s also a cultural aspect to the pro-gram which is appealing” native-Spanish speakers and native-English speakers spending time together out-side of the class in play.

“We really encourage play-dates, if they hang out with one another their Spanish is markedly better,” Logan said. Mellor said the cultural interaction is nearly as important as the language aspects.

“I feel the greatest advan-tage is (hopefully) my daugh-ter is more open to lan-guages and cultures,” Mellor said. “I hope it encourages her to think differently, but it’s early yet.”


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