Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories that will follow the progress of the students in the Bridger Elementary dual language immersion program throughout the school year.
It wasn’t just the first day of school for many first- and second-graders throughout the valley — it was the first day of learning another language for many.
Bridger Elementary, one of six schools with this program, started its first day operating a two-way Spanish/English program, and the teachers say it was definitely successful.
Rachel Checketts, the teacher in charge of the Spanish portion, said she spent four years teaching at another dual immersion school. She said she is excited about seeing it in Cache Valley.
“The rigor of the program for the teachers, parents, administrators, as well as the kids, pushes us to a higher expectation — and that is one of the most rewarding and the richest experiences that I’ve had with it so far,” she said.
Alison Bodily teaches the English portion of the program at the Logan elementary school and has been teaching for more than 25 years. Though she won’t be teaching in Spanish, she said she can’t wait to see how quickly the kids pick up the language.
“The benefits begin immediately because of the brain research involved,” she said.
Dual immersion programs in Utah are based on a two-class model. One class starts with one teacher in the morning; in the afternoon, they swap and go to the other teacher.
The lessons are aligned to help the students but aren’t replica lessons. Students learn the bulk of English and language arts (reading, writing, comprehension and fluency), with math and content instruction support in English.
Checketts said the students will primarily learn math and the bulk of science and social studies in Spanish, which Bodily will reiterate in English. They will also learn some Spanish language arts.
“The bulk of reading and writing is learned in English and then transferred to Spanish,” she said. “Just like we as adults who learn a language don’t have to re-learn how to read, it’s something that comes naturally, and we can just transfer that to the different language,” she said.
On Thursday, the kids were a little timid at first, she said, but started to warm up as the day progressed. From saying answers in English to repeating words with enthusiasm in Spanish, the kids had no fear with this new way of learning.
“It’s the very first day of first grade,” she said. “In three months, we’ll be moving so much more quickly than we are today, and that’s just so validating of what they have learned.”
Jed Grunig, the principal at Bridger, said he is excited to see how this program affects the kids and the community.
“As they go up through the grades, the possibilities are endless for the integration into the community,” Bodily said.
The families with children in this first-year program have committed for five years, Grunig said. This program is in place to follow them until they graduate from high school. By 10th grade, students should be taking university -credit classes in their second language and/or starting to take classes for a third language.
“I can’t wait to see what it does for them as they get a little older,” he said.
While students at Bridger learn Spanish, some other first- and second-graders throughout the valley will learn other languages. Logan’s Hillcrest is using a one-way Portuguese program, while in the Cache County School District, students at four elementary schools will be learning Portuguese, French and Chinese.