A Catholic elementary school in Des Moines plans to start offering a program next year where all the lessons will be taught in Spanish. The principal of St. Anthony’s School, Joe Cordaro, says they’ll begin the “Spanish Immersion” program with one kindergarten section.
Cordaro says the students will go into the classroom and 90% of the day their teacher will speak Spanish to them. He says the will primarily be learning words and phrases and he says the theory is that after five years of school, the kids will be fluent in Spanish and English. Cordaro says they feel this is the best way to teach kids another language.
“We’ve tried to do the before or after school Spanish program, we’ve tried to do the recess, some schools have even tried to do classes. And even the high school has still tried to do it on a regular teaching basis, it just doesn’t work,” Cordaro says. He says the other programs take too much time, but he says by just being in the classroom and immersed in the language, they will learn it.
Cordaro says the teacher will use the exact same curriculum as the other second of kindergartners. He says the idea for the program came from the only other such program in the state at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dubuque. Cordaro says the Dubuque program started with a class of 14 kids seven years ago, with one class of English and one class with the Spanish immersion. He says seven years later the program is housed in its own building and has grown from one section of kindergarten to two sections of grades pre-kindergarten through fifth grade with waiting lists.
“So we know it is very popular, we know that the effects are very positive, so we’re just trying to replicate something that’s maybe there, and who knows where this will go,” Cordaro says. Iowa has a law that says English is the official state language, and Cordaro was asked about possible criticism over the Spanish immersion program. He says Mandarin Chinese is the number one language spoken in the world, but that didn’t seem like a practical second language to teach.
“This seems to be a logical place to go, only because it meets some needs,” Cordaro says, “now kids can go out of the building after they’ve…become fluent, and speak and practice the language. It would be hard to say, to do that about Mandarin Chinese or Arabic. It’s just a matter that this is a good time and place for it.” The program will begin in the fall of 2010 at the southside school.
Cordaro says the classes are capped at 28 students for each section. The Des Moines Diocese says it serves more than 6,300 students in its 17 Catholic schools. For more information, go to www.dmdiocese.org and click on the schools link.