Strong Demand for Spanish Immersion Program in Town With Dutch Heritage

PELLA, Iowa –Learning a new language takes work, but students in a few Iowa schools are picking up a foreign language while studying their core curriculum.

It can be hard to follow along in one of the third grade classrooms at Pella Christian Grade School, unless you speak Spanish. Student Sarah Decious said, "Sometimes it gets a little hard, but once you have a little bit of help, you get adjusted to it."

Decious and her classmates speak it fluently. They are part of the Spanish Immersion Program at the school, which is located in the Central Iowa town with Dutch heritage. Spanish Immersion Point Person Rebecca Gomez said, "People say why wouldn't you do Dutch instead of Spanish? Spanish is a gateway language. If you learn Spanish, it's going to open it up for you to learn other languages, especially romance languages."

This is the fifth year of the program at Pella Christian. A third of the elementary students are a part of it. The program doesn't teach Spanish, but it teaches subjects through the foreign language. Gomez said, "So, it's going to look just like the English classrooms in that they're going to have math, science, social studies, reading, everything, but it's all going to be in Spanish instead of English."

The students start the Spanish Immersion Program as early as preschool and already by Kindergarten, you can hear them speaking Spanish in the classroom. "At six weeks, they have to start speaking to her in Spanish, and at 11 weeks, they have to start speaking to each other in Spanish," said Gomez.

Only a handful of schools in Iowa offer language immersion programs, but Gomez said it's becoming more popular in states like Minnesota and Utah because of its benefits. "So as far as people who are in the area of business, Spanish is a really key language for them, and we have some big corporations that were really behind us on this. They wanted to see immersion education in Pella, and it also just seemed to fit really well with our mission statement about challenging students to use their individual life given gifts for a life of service."

Decious said it should help her down the road. "It might be able to help me when I'm in college, if I want to take a Spanish unit."

Online registration for Pella Christian's Spanish Immersion program opens in February. Last year, it filled up in a little more than a minute. The program does not cost extra tuition.