School spotlight: Challenging students to learn Spanish at an early age

Learning Lessons - Nov 2016

Walking into Gloria Montes-Kelly's first-grade classroom is like being transported to another country. The bright and colorful room is creatively decorated, and every object is labeled — in Spanish.

Montes-Kelly provides the students in the Spanish Immersion Program at Liberty Bell Elementary School in the Southern Lehigh School District with encouragement, but not translation. For these native English-speaking children, Spanish is the only language spoken in their classroom.

Southern Lehigh launched the program in 1989 — the first program of its kind in Pennsylvania. Today, it remains one of only a few school districts in the state to offer this opportunity.

"The program begins in first grade and goes through fifth," said Maricelis Matsinger, second-grade teacher. "Total immersion means when the children come into the classroom, they will only hear Spanish. We are not allowed to speak to them in English."

Students in the Spanish Immersion Program learn the same curriculum as their peers — the content is simply taught in Spanish instead of English.

Matsinger, a former early childhood educator, said introducing a new language at such an early age provides a huge benefit.

"After a certain age, it gets harder for [students] to learn a second language," she said. "So, the earlier, the better. They aren't afraid to speak, and they aren't afraid to make mistakes."

Learn more and watch a video about Southern Lehigh's Spanish Immersion Program here.


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