Learning a second language is both a valuable and difficult experience. However, language acquisition comes much easier if students begin this process at a young age. This is part of the reason for the immersion programs in the Anchorage School District, such as West’s Russian and Spanish Immersion.
Spanish Immersion began at Chugiak High School in 1992. It is the oldest Spanish Immersion Program in Alaska. Roughly 500 students are enrolled annually. Students can enroll in a lottery and if selected the student and any siblings they may have are also eligible to be enrolled. Students receive zone exemptions if they do not live next to the elementary school. The Spanish Immersion Program offers the experience of learning a second language in a very organized way. The program starts in kindergarten and continues to 12th grade, where students can earn a seal of biliteracy. As a result, students not only master subject area content, but also become bilingual. In immersion programs, most students become fluent after fourth or fifth grade.
A current West immersion student, Ryan Austermuhl, is in his last year of the program and says his favorite part of the program is, “the fact that you grow up with the same kids through all 13 years of the program; we’re like family.” In the Spanish Immersion Program there is always room for growth and expansion in knowledge.
West senior Natalia Gonzales, also a current student, says, “the best part of being in Spanish class is that you know everyone and you’re comfortable.” Given that the kids in the program have classes together for all 13 years, lifelong friendships and bonds are formed.
Gonzales and Austermuhl both agreed that they have been able to apply their second language in other classes. “There are a lot of medical terms that come from Latin root words that help me in my medical classes,” says Gonzales. Austermuhl says through Spanish language acquisition he can also “read, write, and speak Spanish and English.”
Eric Elliott is a teacher at Government Hill Elementary School, the school where the immersion program begins with kindergarteners. Elliott has been teaching there for more than 20 years. He teaches kindergarten, first grade, and second grade combined all into one classroom. He says, “half the day is in English and half the day is in Spanish.” He also says, “having classes in Spanish as a child helps them absorb the language easier than trying to go back and learn a language as an adult.”
In conclusion the Spanish Immersion Program is an excellent way to learn a second language, and offers many future opportunities to aspiring students.