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South Valley Riverton Journal

Summit Academy says hola to new Spanish immersion program

Sep 09, 2021 10:56AM ● By Jet Burnham

Summit Academy’s Bluffdale campus is welcoming a new Spanish dual language immersion program. (Laura Giraldo/Summit Academy Bluffdale)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

How do you teach kids a new language? You sing songs, said Laura Giraldo, the teacher of the first students in Summit Academy’s Bluffdale campus’ new Spanish Dual Language Immersion program.

She will introduce the first graders, who have no experience with Spanish, to a new language by bridging their knowledge in English to Spanish through creative and engaging activities, including music.

“We're going to start with the first sounds, and with a lot of songs, and pictures everywhere--just trying to find a common ground, things that are easy for them to relate to,” Giraldo said. 

Giraldo will teach songs in Spanish, most of which students already know in English.

“They can start creating these bridges in their brains because they already know this song, they just need to learn the new vocabulary,” Giraldo said.

Dual Language Immersion students will spend half the day immersed in the Spanish classroom and the other half in an English classroom. For the majority of the students, this immersion experience is their first exposure to Spanish. The first few weeks of class will focus on fun and phonics as students get familiar with the sounds of the new language. More complex language skills, such as writing, will be added later, once they have some confidence in the language.

Giraldo is confident that students will pick up the new language quickly. Her own children were ages 6 and 2 when they moved to Utah from Venezuela. She saw how, after only a few months of being exposed to English all day at school, they became fluent in their new language. Giraldo has also taught in the DLI program at the secondary level.

“I know what kids are capable of doing when they are exposed to dual language,” she said. “It's amazing the things that they can accomplish. They just are more secure. Their brain works hard because they need to relate everything to their native language, but they can learn so fast. I'm totally sure that in a couple of months my students will be able to understand what I'm saying.”

Summit Academy Principal Diana Brantley is thrilled to host the program; she has seen the benefits for students who participate in the German dual immersion program which she helped establish at Summit Academy’s Independence campus. She said it helps students academically to be more cognitively flexible and culturally, to expand their perspective.

“We need to be more culturally aware of other people and different ideas-- children who are raised with that tend to show more positive attitudes towards other cultures, as well as a deeper appreciation of their own,” she said. “We owe it to them to help them understand that the world is diverse. And so being able to help them broaden that horizon when they're young, I think, is invaluable.”

She loves that hosting the program will benefit all students, not just those in DLI classes.

“Ultimately, it really does become a part of the fabric of the school, where you're involving everybody,” she said. “So, we're not just blessing the lives of half our students. That culture lives in, and is vibrant in, the whole school.”

All students and their families will be invited to activities throughout the year which highlight Latino culture, holidays and traditions.

“This is just the beginning of these programs, so I want everyone at school to be involved in the dual immersion program and part of it is just knowing a little bit about our culture and the traditions we have,” Giraldo said.

Giraldo said the administration and staff at Summit Academy has been amazingly supportive. Currently, she is the only DLI teacher. A new teacher will be added each year as the program continues to grow—one grade at a time—through twelfth grade.

Mountain Point Elementary, also in Bluffdale, is starting a Spanish DLI program this year, as well. There are six elementary schools in the surrounding Jordan School District and three in the nearby Canyons District which offer Spanish immersion programs.