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Why Immersion Learning Matters: A Perspective

Applying to college is a scary but exciting process. Picking out schools, writing a personal statement and stacking up all of your best accomplishments.

But there was only one experience that I was never able to put into simple words, and that was the 11 years that I spent in immersion classes.

Arlington County is home to four Spanish immersion programs, at Claremont and Francis Scott Key elementary schools, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

Arlington Public Schools says the goal of the programs is to develop “high levels” of proficiency and literacy in two languages, promote high academic achievement and cross cultural competence.

I started second grade at Claremont Immersion School in 2003. It was the first year the school opened and students came from the immersion programs at Abingdon Elementary and my former school, Oakridge. I spent half my first day reciting the multiplication tables in Spanish, the other half in English.

It was not always easy, I struggled with both science and math as I got older and the content got more complicated. I stuck with it, although it was common for classmates to leave the school so they could thrive in a traditional setting.

Language skills improve even more in middle school, when there are 11 hours of Spanish instruction a week. Because subjects switch throughout the day, there’s a possibility to go back and forth from English to Spanish. It’s a brain workout to go back and forth between the two every 45 minutes. Unlike the elective Spanish classes offered in middle school, the Spanish Language Arts class that immersion students take is structured much like an English class.

High school is the true test. Some students struggle with AP level Spanish, as you don’t practice the language the way you do in middle school. With block scheduling, you may only get one day of Spanish instruction.

Continuing to practice Spanish every day is a valuable commitment. Many of my friends are double majoring or minoring in the language. They have traveled to Spain, Cuba and Costa Rica to practice the language.

“I’ve gotten to travel the world with confidence in my ability to speak the language,” said Peyton Johnson, a senior at James Madison University double majoring in Communications and Spanish.

Aside from learning another language, the other perk of immersion is that I was able to forge lifelong friendships. Because there are designated schools to continue the program means I went to school with the same people from that first day at Claremont until my last day at Wakefield.

“A good portion of my closest friends are from immersion,” said Cathleen Madlansacay, a senior International Affairs Pre-Law major who minors in Spanish. Madlansacay and Johnson are roommates at JMU and met at Claremont in third grade.

Speaking Spanish has helped students forge relationships and have seen how immersion matters in a workforce that values employees who are bilingual.

“I have had unexpected conversations with strangers and have gotten job opportunities,” said Johnson.

Most the students I spoke to were grateful that their parents enrolled them in the program.

“They gave me an opportunity to not only become fluent in another language but also immerse myself in another culture,” said Allie Names, a Geography and Spanish double major at Mary Washington University.

Carolyn Harvey, who graduated from Wakefield in 2016, echoed the sentiment.

“I used to always be mad that my parents put me in Immersion but now I’m thankful,” said Harvey. “I always surprise people when they meet me and hear me speak Spanish.”

The Immersion program has progressed since I started all those years ago. The shiny new Claremont that started with 350 students is expanding its capacity to hold 767 students. Now, Wakefield offers Biology, Economics, and Personal Finance in Spanish.

As I approach my senior year at the University of Maryland, I realize how lucky I was to have such an amazing experience that has made an indelible impact on so many lives.

Brooke Giles is an ARLnow.com summer intern.

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Schools Plan to Expand Using Temporary Classrooms, Interior Modifications

Arlington Public Schools will look to temporarily add more space to try to cope with its rising enrollment by adding temporary classrooms and making interior adjustments at several schools.

The Arlington County Board is expected to vote on a slew of proposals across eight schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels at its meeting Saturday (July 15). The temporary solutions are all recommended for approval by county staff, as “student enrollment is growing at a faster rate than APS can provide new schools and classrooms.”

Some are looking to add more temporary, trailer classrooms — known in APS parlance as “relocatables” — while others will make interior adjustments to add more space.

The following schools are applying to add relocatables:

The following schools will look to make interior adjustments and modifications:

Photos Nos. 6, 7 and 8 via Google Maps

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APS to Make Short-Term Fixes to Rocky Fields at Claremont Immersion

Claremont school yard (Photo via claremontschoolyard.blogspot.com)Arlington Public Schools will be taking some steps soon to address a rocky outdoor play area at Claremont Immersion Elementary School.

As we reported Tuesday, parents complained about the condition of the fields around the Claremont playground, posting photos of bare, rocky ground and other hazards.

Unlike a previous effort, this time around parents appear to have succeeded in getting the school system to take action.

“After several Claremont parents and I contacted APS about the schoolyard conditions at Claremont Immersion, APS responded within 24 hours,” Melissa Schwaber told ARLnow.com. “They indicated that they are already working on some short term fixes to the schoolyard, while also working with Arlington County Parks and Recreation to identify more sustainable long term solutions.”

“I was gratified to hear such a positive response so quickly from APS, and am optimistic they will follow through on these commitments,” Schwaber added.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said school facilities staff plans to remove the rocks, plant new grass and put down mulch in a portion of the field, in addition to extending one of the playgrounds by adding mulch. So far, there’s no estimate for when that work will take place.

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Parents Calling for Improvements to Rocky Yard at Elementary School

Some Claremont Immersion Elementary School parents are mobilizing for improvements to the area around the school’s playgrounds.

The school yard, parents say, is dusty, rocky and potentially dangerous as a play area for students. A website has been set up to encourage parents to write to Arlington Public Schools administrators and demand change.

Here’s what one parent wrote on the website:

Last November (2014), I contacted APS Facilities about the horrible conditions in the Claremont Schoolyard. It didn’t go anywhere because it would “cost too much” to solve the problem.

As you can see, much of Claremont’s school yard is covered in small sharp rocks. Students often fall and get cut on these rocks. As a result, teachers and staff have to direct students to play in the field between the trailer and playground equipment. The over use of this field has caused the grass to vanish.

If APS is going to continue increasing the student population of Claremont, they need to increase the amount of usable SAFE outdoor space!

If you would like to express your concern over the rocky schoolyard, please see the list below to contact APS and the School Board!

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UPDATED: Road Closures, School Security Heightened Due to Shots Fired Investigation

Police car lightsUpdate at 1:55 p.m. — Fairfax County Police say they’ve determined that the shots fired call was the result of an active shooter drill. Road closures are being lifted and police are clearing the area.

Wakefield High School and Claremont Elementary are in a heightened state of security due to an investigation into shots fired across the county line.

Fairfax County Police say they’re investigating a shots fired call from the area around Skyline Towers and the Target on Route 7. The address is reportedly that of a federal law enforcement office.

“We are investigating a report of shots heard at 5109 Leesburg Pike,” FCPD said in a tweet. “Nothing confirmed. No suspect, no victims located at this point.”

Wakefield and Claremont have been placed in “secure the school” mode, according to scanner traffic. Arlington County Police have also shut down the intersection of George Mason Drive and Route 7, preventing traffic from entering Fairfax County.

Tweets from during the incident:

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Claremont Immersion Montessori Moving to Hoffman-Boston

Claremont Immersion School's signThe 50 seats of the Montessori program at Claremont Immersion School will move to Hoffman-Boston Elementary next year, and the abrupt way it was announced has rankled some parents.

Children in the program were given a note in their backpacks to take home last Wednesday signed by Claremont Principal Jessica Panfil and the school’s early childhood education coordinator, Kate Graham. The letter says Claremont’s overcrowding has forced the move.

“Because of the capacity constraints at Claremont Immersion, we are delighted that the two Primary Montessori classes have found a wonderful home at Hoffman-Boston with other Montessori classmates,” the letter states. “Our Montessori teachers, Ms. Katy and Ms. Sylvia, will continue to teach the Primary Montessori classes at Hoffman-Boston, which has a strong early childhood program and currently has two Primary Montessori classes located there.”

According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Harris, the decision was made by Superintendent Patrick Murphy and didn’t require School Board approval.

“This is standard practice,” Harris told ARLnow.com. “Capacity is evaluated all the time to see whether some classrooms need to be relocated. They’re going to be over capacity at that school next year in the K-5 classroom space. If they keep the Montessori program there, they will not have all the room to accommodate the incoming K-5 students.”

Claremont Immersion School (photo via APS)Caryn Winkler has a 4 year-old in the Montessori program. He’s one of 30 students — out of the program’s 46 — who will have to take the Montessori program at Hoffman-Boston next year. The other 16 will enter first grade at Claremont Immersion.

“Siblings will be separated, Montessori cohorts divided, and parents will be scrambling with differing start and end times,” Winkler wrote in an email to ARLnow.com. “Parents moved into the Claremont zone to attend Claremont just like North Arlington parents move into their selected neighborhood for their chosen school.”

Winkler said the school has been “secretive about this,” and Harris said no parents or community members other than those of the 46 current students have been notified. Parents of prospective Montessori students will be informed of the move at an upcoming pre-kindergarten information night when they register for next year.

“My son had a playdate with a friend this morning and I told her mom about this,” Winkler said. “Her sister moved to the neighborhood so that she could specifically attend Montessori at Claremont and then enroll in the Immersion program. I just don’t understand how this wasn’t a community discussion — or at least make us aware that this will happen and that we have a transition plan.”

Harris said moves “happen like this every year.” The school held an information session for parents last Friday morning at 7:40 a.m., just two days after the letter was placed in backpacks. Since then, Winkler and two other parents spoke out at the School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan community forum this week, and she said Murphy has agreed to meet with her and address her concerns.

Photos via APS

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Morning Notes

Snowy branches

Metro Closing Several Pentagon Escalators — Metro will begin its third major escalator replacement at the Pentagon station on February 4. Three of the six “southside escalators” at the station entrance will be shut down for replacement with new, more reliable units. Customers will still be able to use the three other escalators on the north side. [WMATA]

Proposal to Extend Voting Hours Fails — The proposal by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) to extend voting times in Virginia has failed in committee. The measure would have pushed poll closing time from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. [Sun Gazette]

Claremont Elementary School Earns Health Award — The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and Sodexo presented Claremont Elementary School with the Healthy Schools Award for being one of five schools having the most participants in the MCM-organized Healthy Kids Fun Run in October. The Claremont P.E. department received $1,000 and each student received a healthy snack pack from Sodexo. [Arlington Public Schools]

Emergency Winter Shelter Open — Because of the extreme cold, the county’s Emergency Winter Shelter, which is usually only open at night, will be open all day today. If you see someone in Arlington needing shelter from the cold, call 703-228-7395.

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Redskins Portis, Orakpo to Visit Claremont Elementary

Students at Claremont Immersion Elementary school in South Arlington will be immersed in a world of football and fitness tomorrow afternoon. The school has been chosen as the local winner of the NFL’s Play 60 Super School sweepstakes.

Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis and linebacker Brian Orakpo will make a special appearance at the school around noon to talk to students about the importance of living healthy and active lifestyles that include 60 minutes of exercise each day.

Orakpo and Portis, who has been recovering from an injury, will then lead students in an Ultimate NFL Physical Education Class.

The Redskins stars will be joined by Tanya Snyder, wife of Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Mrs. Snyder will present the school with a $10,000 check, to go toward health and wellness programming or equipment.

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