The Spanish immersion classrooms at Sandpiper Elementary School in Scottsdale seem like typical American classrooms. But look a little closer and you’ll notice something: From the posters on the wall to the words on the rug to the teacher’s lessons, everything is presented in Spanish.
It’s part of Foreign Language Immersion Teaching Enrichment (FLITE), a signature Spanish-immersion program created at Sandpiper Elementary School in Scottsdale to give English-language students the ability to speak, read and write a second language.
The day is structured so that English-speaking students spend half their day in a Spanish-speaking environment learning math, science and social studies. The second half of their day is conducted in English and covers reading, writing and grammar.
FLITE is based on research that shows immersion instruction—provided at a young age—is the most effective way to learn a second language. Studies also indicate that bilingual education can have a positive effect on intellectual growth, especially with tasks involving divergent thinking, pattern recognition and problem solving.
“I don’t think I fully understood what Spanish immersion would look like before coming to this school, but after spending half a year watching how quickly young children pick up a second language, I can honestly say I am simply amazed,” says Diana Cameron, first-year principal at Sandpiper.
Sandra Hostetter, who teaches kindergarten for FLITE, says the Spanish immersion program is what drew her to the Scottsdale school. She has seen firsthand the impact of early exposure to a second language.
Both of her children—Christian, 28, and Josiah, 26—spent their early school years in an immersion program in Long Beach, Calif.
Josiah graduated from ASU and went to China, where he studied Mandarin.
“They are [both] culturally sensitive,” says Hostetter. “They can go to any country and pick up on the common courtesies of that region. It has made them globally minded and intrigued about learning.”
The Hostetter family’s experience aligns with research showing that once the mystery of a second language is unlocked, it is easier to learn yet more languages.
Principal Cameron says that many families recognize the impact this opportunity can have on these children’s futures: “It can open a lot of doors for them.”
Extending the learning
Now in its fifth year, Paradise Valley Unified School District is planning on expanding the program, adding sixth-grade classrooms next school year and programs at the middle school and high school levels in the near future.
The hope is that fifth-graders currently in the Spanish immersion program will have the opportunity to graduate high school with a complete K-12 Spanish immersion experience.
Most of the students attending Sandpiper participate in the Spanish immersion program, but one classroom at each grade level is English if parents wish to opt their children out of the bilingual program.
Students must apply for Spanish immersion and demonstrate English proficiency. Applications are accepted for preschool through first grade. For higher grades, students may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
For more information about the FLITE program, contact Sandpiper Elementary School: 602-449-6300 or pvschools.net.
More public school language-immersion programs
- Desert Willow Elementary, Cave Creek
- Kyrene del Norte, Tempe
- Kyrene de los Lagos, Ahwatukee
- Pueblo Elementary, Scottsdale