(KUTV) Utah is not always lauded as the best place for kids to learn in the nation, there is however one spot where Utah schools are performing ahead of the nation and leading the way. The state’s first graduating class of dual immersion students is graduating from sixth grade with near fluency in the language.
To get a peek at how the students were doing after six years of speaking a language for half a school day, we dropped in on Calvin Smith Elementary in Taylorsville. The school was one of the first to launch the dual immersion program with Chinese as the chosen language.The school has six full-time, Chinese-speaking, teachers that don’t allow a word of English in their classes. Many of the teachers at this school, and others, come from mainland China in a deal where they get experience living and soaking up American culture while providing an invaluable teaching service for the school. Their salaries, surprisingly, are paid for by the Chinese government.The dual immersion program now six years in, is offering Utah kids and families a one-of-a-kind education that is proving to be more than successful than anyone has ever imagined.When you walk into a classroom, you can hear the kids chatting back and forth in Chinese, not English. They seem at ease and not all struggling to find the words they need. Jayne Young, who now works with the dual immersion program with Granite School District, taught these kids in the third grade. She is thrilled to see their progress.“They speak confidently, they feel comfortable and are excited to speak.”When Young worked with these kids she was teaching math and social studies in Chinese. Three years later, she loves that she can, “discuss what they’re going to do this summer, their hopes and dreams for the future,” all in Chinese. As she looks back she notes, “I underestimated this program a lot!”While teachers and school administrators are thrilled with the outcome, it’s safe to say, these sixth graders are happy with where they are as well. Grayson Spencer, who is headed to junior high next year, where he will only have two hours a day of Chinese speaking classes talks with ease in his second language. He says if he can’t think of the right word, he can describe it in Chinese and ensure his fellow students understand him.Talking to a group of students, it is obvious their dreams for the future are big. One student plans to travel to China with his family and help do the interpreting. Another would like to be an interpreter after college. One young man hasn’t decided. He just wants to make a lot of money and if that is in cargo, as an ambassador or whatever is needed, he’ll do it.After spending six years speaking nothing but Chinese for half their school day, the dreams of these 12-year-olds seem possible. State Sen. Howard Stephenson, who championed the legislation that started dual immersion in Utah, says of these students, “they are elite students compare to others across the United States and they will have a ticket to engaging in world commerce education and culture.”
Stephenson couldn’t be happier with student outcomes.
“The remarkable thing about this program is that it is not costly.”
Many of the Chinese immersion teachers’ salaries are paid for by the Chinese government, hoping to give their teachers a few years of American immersion in exchange. It’s a win – win for everyone.
While the program isn’t expensive, it’s yielding jaw-dropping results.
Dual immersion students are scoring higher than their mono language peers in every subject. Stephenson says “brain researchers are looking into that wondering what is going on.” What they’ve come up with he says is pretty basic.
“The students brains are more activated.”
Young dual-immersion students create a more elastic brain, making even math and science easier to learn.
The goal is to get to the point where every student who wants to start the program in first grade can. Right now the biggest and only stumbling block is hiring enough teachers fast enough and retaining them with proper visas.
Currently Spanish, French, Chinese, German and Portuguese are taught in Utah dual immersion programs. In the next couple years, Russian and Arabic will also be spoken in Utah schools.
Fun fact: these kids are learning such pure language, they don’t have accents.