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Inside Alhambra’s dual immersion programs in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish

  • Fremont Elementary's 2nd grade Spanish dual immersion class. All photos by Liezel Gutierrez.

  • Students in Fremont Elementary School's dual-immersion kindergarten class listen to the Spanish version of "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs."

  • A student samples a moon cake during Marguerita Elementary School's kindergarten Chinese-language immersion class. Photo by Liezel Gutierrez.

  • The 2nd grade Chinese immersion class incorporates math and science vocabulary.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

At the end of October, Fremont Elementary School’s first grade Spanish dual-language immersion class were treated to a special guest.

Los Angeles Times journalist Esmeralda Bermudez was stopping by to talk about the benefits of teaching children to speak multiple languages at a young age.

The Salvadoran American reporter grew up speaking English and Spanish. She made headlines after writing about a stranger scolding her for speaking Spanish to her daughter, thereby “confusing the poor girl” in public.

“One of the best gifts you can give your child — a gift that keeps connection to all generations and keeps your culture — is the gift of teaching your home language,” said Bermudez of what she learned from that experience, according to an Alhambra Unified School District press release.

Studies have shown that learning multiple languages results in healthier, more engaged brains. The California Department of Education has launched an initiative to get all K-12 students in the state to be bilingual by 2030.

A lot of Alhambra parents agree, based on the enrollment numbers for the school district’s Spanish and Mandarin Chinese dual-language immersion programs. One-hundred and seventy students are enrolled in the Mandarin Chinese dual immersion program at Marguerita Elementary School. The Spanish dual immersion program at Fremont Elementary School has 102 students enrolled. Both programs are in their third year, with three classes in kindergarten, first grade and second grade so far.

One morning in late September, Aileen Gao’s kindergarten class colored in drawings of a moon cake, which Chinese people eat during the mid-Autumn festival. Runa Ling’s 2nd grade class incorporates vocabulary about animals, plants and similar subjects that supplements the science and math lessons that her students learn primarily in English.

The program aims to have a class where one-third of students speak Chinese as their native language, one-third speak English as their native language and one-third are already bilingual, so that the students can help each other with language practice. “It is challenging to achieve exactly one-third fluent Mandarin speakers, one-third English only speakers and one-third heritage speakers, but our goal is to get as close as we can when balancing classes,” Marguerita principal Teresa Johnson said.

Students are treated to the classic story of “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,” during Fremont Elementary School’s kindergarten Spanish immersion class, while the second grade class works on a reading comprehension exercise. The goal of the Spanish immersion classes is to have students speak 90 percent of the time in Spanish while in kindergarten and then go down by 10 percent each subsequent year until they’re learning half the time in English and half the time in Spanish in 4th grade.

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