Spanish immersion program will bridge cultures

Dual Language Immersion Teachers Amy Kaetzel, left, and Carmen Brooks, pose for a portrait at Huntingburg Elementary School on Friday. Marlena Sloss/The Herald


HUNTINGBURG — Kindergarten teacher Amy Kaetzel added new bilingual decorations to her classroom over the summer.

The new decor comes as she and her colleague, Carmen Brooks, prepare to teach the first year of the Southwest Dubois County School Corporation’s dual language immersion program, a new offering that will teach students in English and Spanish. By the time students in the program graduate, they will be fluent in both English and Spanish, which will set them apart as they apply to colleges or enter the workforce.

“We’re doing it because it’s going to help our kids now, and it’s also going to help them years from now,” said Tonya Schepers, English Language Learners director for the corporation.

Southwest Dubois’ program is the latest of more than 20 dual language immersion programs in Indiana, according to Herald archives. Most teach in English and Spanish, but one teaches in English and Mandarin.

Staff members at Southwest Dubois began planning for the dual language immersion program — which will be housed at Huntingburg Elementary — in 2019 and won a $50,000 planning grant from the Indiana Department of Education through the Indiana Dual Language Immersion Pilot Program that the legislature set up in 2015. A second $50,000 grant is helping the corporation pay startup costs for the 2020-21 school year.

The program will follow a 50-50 model, with 50% of students coming from native English-speaking families and 50% coming from native Spanish-speaking families. Instruction will also be delivered in a 50-50 format. Students will spend half the school day with Kaetzel learning English language arts and half the day with Brooks learning Spanish language arts and math in Spanish. Science and social studies will be taught in both languages.

“I’m really excited that the native Spanish speakers will get to show their stuff,” Brooks said.

The program holds 48 students — 24 in homeroom with Kaetzel and 24 with Brooks. So far, 40 slots have filled.

In addition to learning core subjects in both English and Spanish, the program will also provide cultural lessons about countries where each language is spoken. Those lessons will give every student the opportunity to learn about cultures other than their own and represent more of the cultures present in the student body at Southwest Dubois. Some of the cultures represented include the U.S., Mexico, El Salvador and Cuba.

Cultural lessons can also be shared with students outside the program.

“It’s really enriching the entire school to have the program here,” Schepers said.

As the first year of the program gets underway, corporation staff already has plans for the program to expand. Each year, another grade level will be added to the program to ensure that as students progress through Huntingburg Elementary, they stay in the program. The goal is for students to enroll in kindergarten and stick with it at least through fifth grade.

Bringing the program to the community has meant a year and a half of planning, school visits and hard work, and the staff is eager for classes to begin.

“It’s exciting to see the fruits of that hard work and to get started,” Schepers said. “We’re thankful for all the community support.”

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