Like thousands of Prince George’s parents, Franklin Shelton of Bowie dropped his daughter Zion off for her first day of kindergarten Tuesday morning. But unlike many kindergartners, Zion would be walking into a classroom where the only language spoken would not be her native English, as one of Prince George’s County’s three new Spanish Immersion programs.
The Spanish language immersion programs opened Aug. 26 at Phyllis E. Williams Elementary in Largo, Overlook Elementary in Temple Hills and Cesar Chavez Elementary in Hyattsville.
Zion, 5, said she was looking forward to her first day of kindergarten in the program.
“I think it will be fun. My sister said Spanish is hard, but I don’t think so,” Zion said.
Shelton said he felt the experience would be of great benefit to his daughter.
“I realize we live in a global society, and it will be to her benefit to speak to a broader group of people. I also think it will also help with her reasoning and problem-solving skills,” Shelton said. “While I understand that immersion will require her to speak in the Spanish language in school, I think she will thrive.”
Inside one of Phyllis E. Williams Elementary’s kindergarten classrooms, Spanish Immersion teacher Elisha Young greeted each student with “hola,” meaning “hello” in English.
Young went around the room, singing to each student “Como te llamas tu?” — “What is your name?” in Spanish.
The first few children stared. Young pointed to their name badge. One kindergartner said “I don’t know,” but then someone answered with their name. Soon more students caught on, and the students were asking the question along with the teacher.
While it can be a challenge for students to begin their school careers in a language they don’t know, the benefits are great, said Ralph Sierra, P.E. Williams’ Spanish Immersion coordinator.
“According to the research, the younger a child learns a language, the easier it is for them to develop that facility,” Sierra said. “Furthermore, they see improvement in other content areas. Also, when they learn a third language, they acquire it faster.”
Anne Baum of Hyattsville is the parent of a student in Cesar Chavez Elementary’s dual English-Spanish Immersion program. At Chavez, instruction is given half in English and half in Spanish.
Baum said many of her neighbors are native Spanish speakers.
“I think she’ll have lots of opportunities to practice Spanish when she’s home,” Baum said.
The new Spanish immersion program was one of the highlights of school system CEO Kevin Maxwell’s school system revamp, and came at the urging of several parents, including the grassroots organization My Bilingual Child, which formed last year.
Gina Bowler of Upper Marlboro is co-founder of the group. Her daughter, Francesca, is enrolled in the Spanish Immersion program at Overlook Elementary in Temple Hills.
“I’m just elated that it’s finally happening, and I just commend Dr. Maxwell, the school board and the County Council for all they did in making this happen,” Bowler said. “I’m very excited about it, and I have high expectations that these programs will be successful.”