Dual immersion, a bilingual option: Hurricane Elementary’s exemplar

Hurricane Elementary School, Hurricane, Utah, May 25, 2013 | Photo by Leo Wright, St. George News

HURRICANE – Many parents look for ways to give their children the best education they can while many schools try new things in an effort to improve the education they are providing. Hurricane Elementary School happens to be the former and it just finished its first year of a “dual immersion program.”

According to the Hurricane Elementary School website the dual immersion program is set up so that “students receive math, science, social studies, and Spanish language arts instruction in Spanish for half the school day. Students then switch classes and receive English language arts instruction and reinforcement in math, science, social studies in English for the remainder of the day. The Spanish- and English-speaking teachers work together closely to support students in all academic areas. Students learn the same curriculum as all Utah students – part of it in Spanish!”

Part of their plan is to build up the program there at the elementary school.

“This year (the program) is only for first grade because it is the first year,” Hurricane Elementary Principal Travis Wilstead said. “Next year it will be first and second grade. The following year first, second, and third, and so on. I do … hope to be able to add kindergarten at some point but at this time we are starting the program in first grade.”

The rest of “the plan,” he said, “is for the students to be able to continue being taught at least one subject through the intermediate school and into middle school. By the time these students get to high school they will be past advanced Spanish courses in vocabulary, and reading. After all, Spanish will be about 50 percent of their elementary experience and we have already put a plan in place with Dr. Christensen at Hurricane Intermediate to allow them to continue to develop their Spanish skills while there. Dr. Hoyt at Hurricane Middle School is also excited about the students coming up and is working out a plan that will be in place by the time these students get to eighth grade.”

Immersion is the key to this program. These students are still required to learn all the material that their peers are learning in all the other elementary schools. This makes immersion critical so that they don’t have to spend time translating back and forth, they are able to learn Spanish the same way they learned English, by associating words with objects and ideas, as opposed to associating Spanish words with English words and having to translate back and forth.

The unique approach of the program inspired Wilstead to implement it:

“I have watched Dual Immersion/Bilingual programs come and go across the nation,” Wilstead said. “My son attended a bilingual class in Las Vegas. Never have I been impressed with what I saw. So when the state started a movement for Dual Immersion, I waited. I was interested because it was different from other programs. For example, it did not cover half the curriculum in a school year by teaching one day in English and the next day the same lesson in Spanish. After seeing the level of success and the differences in the model the state has outlined for us, versus what I had traditionally seen, I was excited when the school district asked if I would apply for the grant. I thought that if this is truly as successful as I have been reading, and discussing with colleagues in districts up north, I needed,” he said with emphasis, “to give our students the opportunity; and, after seeing their successes, I’m really glad we have.”

The school’s faculty involved in the program are working very hard to make it successful. Wilstead said:

“In relation to our Dual Immersion Spanish Strand, our school has a set schedule for teacher training. The teachers meet three times a week. One time is outside of their regular contract. This time is spent discussing students’ success and struggles. As we identify these students and their needs the teachers begin to form a plan to help them.

“Once during the week the students go to a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) specialist and go deeper into math and science concepts, or they go to our school counselor where they are taught using three different curricula – Positive Action, Be Cool, and Steps to Respect – and one day the students rotate between the library and computer lab. While the students are in these classes (STEM and the counselor are one hour every other week, library and computer lab are a half hour every week) the teachers are meeting with Mrs. McCombs, our staff developer, or myself to receive training on classroom management, content, and instructional strategies.

“The final hour is to complete the planning for reaching the needs of the students. The students may or may not be with their regular teacher. They may be with a group of students that have mastered the concepts of this subject this session, but with other students that struggled with another concept the next time or they may be with the largest group of students that are right where we anticipated.

“It is designed to be timely and responsive, allowing for students to be placed where the current need is. While this has helped all of the students in our school, I believe it has contributed to the success of the students in the dual immersion class as well. We have not allowed gaps to be formed without taking steps to correct them. At the same time we have allowed the students that are excelling to continue to move forward at the accelerated rate.”

“The students are shy about speaking in Spanish,” Wilstead said, addressing their level of success in their first year learning the language. “No one likes to look silly and we don’t remember speaking like a toddler. But that is exactly the type of stage these students have gone through. They began with simple one word statements and/or questions. Then they moved to short two-to-five-word sentences but have grammar errors similar to when a toddler says, ‘Mommy hold you,’  meaning, ‘Mommy, will you hold me?’ All that said, they are becoming more and more comfortable and even show off a bit on the playground and at lunch.”

The students have had no difficulty keeping up with their standard curriculum right in step with their peers. Wilstead said he answers this question with a smile and a ‘yes they have,’  Assessments, compared to those of the dual immersion student’s peers, show them at the same levels of performance and sometimes even higher.

Applications are welcome from any parents interested in having their children in the dual immersion program. Those who live within the boundaries of Hurricane Elementary will get precedence; however, Wilstead said that over the past two years, the school has been able to accept boundary exceptions and that by the start of school the waiting lists have ended up empty.

Parents interested in placing their kids on the waiting list for the 2013-2014 school year can do so here.

Hurricane Elementary is not the only school in Washington County School District that’s doing a dual immersion language program. There are currently nine schools in the district doing similar programs, some teaching in Spanish and some teaching in Chinese.

Parents that are hoping to get their kids into the program at Hurricane Elementary in future years and parents interested in getting their kids in one of the other dual immersion programs may check out the Washington County School district’s  dual immersion enrollment website.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews @LeoWright13

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Hurricane Elementary School, Hurricane, Utah, May 25, 2013 | Photo by Leo Wright, St. George News
Hurricane Elementary School, Hurricane, Utah, May 25, 2013 | Photo by Leo Wright, St. George News


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  • Annie May 25, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    If I moved to another Country for any reason, learning the language would be my first priority. What if a student wanted to learn French or possibly Chinese. Why do we cater to these people?

    • Fred May 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      If you had read the article then you would have seen that there are several schools in the district that are doing Chinese. One of them, Three Falls Elementary, is also in Hurricane.

    • Chris May 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm

      You clearly don’t understand, Annie. This program is aimed at native English speakers to immerse them in a foreign language. If you don’t think that knowing a second language is useful in this world, you live a very sheltered life.

  • Concerned May 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

    I think this is the most ridiculous thing ever. Most kids don’t even have a good grip on English when they graduate highschool. So much time is already wasted in schools. I had to take a language class in highschool for two years just so I could get into college. Then in college I had to take two more semesters of it. Has it been beneficial, do I still remember most of it, No! Some parents think this is cool right now only because it is new and trendy. We should spend more time teaching our students meaningful and useful information. We need to get rid of curriculum that they will never use and prepare them for college where they can excell in the areas that they want. All to often college has to start by reteaching students the basics that they should have learned in highschool. If they are learning math in Spanish do we really think they are going to learn as well as if they were learning it in their own language? Isn’t that what sets back so many Spanish students is that they have to learn in their second language? Are we trying to level the playing ground? How about a class on teaching children how to be entrepreneurs instead of breeding them to become slaves for large corporations. There is so much time and minds wasted in our school systems in America. Children should be able to decide in highschool what career path they want to follow and get education and some experience in that field so they don’t waste time and money in college experimenting and continually changing majors.

    • Chris May 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      The program is an option offered so that high achieving students can become proficient in another language. It is not compulsory for anyone. Your life experience is really narrow if you have not found a use for your foreign language education. Very little is offered to the students who have strong learning abilities to keep them from becoming bored with the normal curriculum. This is an excellent opportunity for intelligent students to get a leg up on the world economy. I have every intention of enrolling my young son in the Chinese immersion program when he becomes school aged next year.

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