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Charter school invests in early language development

VISTA — Language programs are becoming more than a trend in schools.

Schools and school districts throughout the state are beginning to invest more in early language development, and Vista Springs Charter School is no exception.

The school, which is part of the Springs Charter Schools network, launched its dual immersion program with Spanish and English five years ago. Regardless of their grade level, students take part in learning a second language and the results are beginning to show, said Principal Amy Heald.

“The idea is to create a community of language learners, not just the kids, but their families,” she explained. “We really emphasize bringing in the parents to participate in activities and to speak English if they’re Spanish speakers and Spanish if they’re English speakers.”

The program, dubbed La Fuente, incorporates TK through fifth grade, and will continue to expand into middle school as an enrichment program as the student population grows older.

Heald, who speaks five languages including Spanish, said about one third of students are English speakers only, one third are Spanish only and the final third speaks a bit of both.

The benefits, she said, include opening pathways for students as the graduate from high school and college and begin their careers. In addition, studies also show a second language also results in better academic accomplishments, such as grades, along with better test scores.

And while Vista Springs doesn’t force students to speak one language in the 50-50 program, teachers encourage the students to help each other out.

“We also do a large number of community events every year, including having people come in and present in English and Spanish,” said Heald, who also speaks French, German and Portuguese. “We had an international community day, where each class sort of adopts as their country. They did activities related to that country and the students rotate around and learn about all the countries.”

As for the students, third-grader Nadia Beard, 8, and fifth-grader Teegan Story, 10, said the program has led to better learning opportunities and brought various methods of learning to the classroom.

The students use a variety of methods, such as computers with interactive curriculum, songs and traditional bookwork.

But mostly, learning a new language is fun with little downside, Story said.

“It’s kind of like, why not?” he added. “It can help you in a few ways. It can’t negatively impact you, so it’s fun.”

Beard lived in Italy for three years and picked up some Italian. So, when she was introduced to Spanish, she said it was similar to Italian.

“Once I go to España, it will be fun to speak to other people in Spanish,” she said. “Learning how to do that is also a blessing.”

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