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Opening a world of possibilities

Gordon Jourdain teaches a Misaabekong Ojibwe Language Immersion class at Lowell Elementary. (Photo: ISD 709)1 / 2
Rebecca Sheldon teaches a Spanish Language Immersion class at Lowell Elementary. (Photo: ISD 709)2 / 2

This year marked the first time families with kindergarten students had an opportunity to enroll their children in Nueva Visión, ISD 709's Spanish Immersion program at Lowell Elementary. The decision to offer Nueva Vision was based in part on the success of the Misaabekong Ojibwe Immersion program developed two years earlier and on feedback from families. Research suggests participation in language immersion may contribute to academic achievement and that students exhibit greater problem-solving abilities, flexible thinking and advanced literacy and proficiency.

Students in immersion classrooms learn the same reading and math standards as their peers, just in another language where culture and content are woven together. From the first day of class teachers use Spanish or Ojibwe along with gestures and modeling to communicate.

At the beginning of the school year, students don't know the language and have to listen closely and watch what the teacher is doing. I visited Nueva Visions early on to see how things were going. As we listened to the teacher speaking fluent Spanish, a kindergartener leaned toward me and questioned whether the teacher knew he and his classmates didn't understand what she was saying. I said, "I don't understand the words but I think I know what she wants you to do. Do you?" He nodded and smiled and sat down in the circle with his classmates, as she had directed.

A few weeks later I visited again and was amazed at how far the children had progressed. The teacher asked questions in Spanish and the students answered her in English. The teacher gave directions in Spanish and the students followed them without hesitation.

During a more recent visit, the kindergarteners were answering questions, singing and reading in Spanish. Based on visits to immersion programs in other school districts, I'm pretty sure most of these students will be speaking fluently and easily switching languages by second grade and by fifth grade will be bilingual.

We recently hosted an open house where families could learn more about immersion learning and the potential benefits. We had a great turnout and many families have already registered for next year. To learn more about Nueva Visión or Misaabekong, please visit our website at ISD709.org or call (218) 336-8700. We'd be glad to help you learn more about these programs or help you get you registered for next year while there's still room.

Bill Gronseth

Bill Gronseth is the superintendent of Duluth Public Schools. Contact him at (218) 336-8752 or email william.gronseth@duluth.k12.mn.us.

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