The program is total immersion for K-2: the teachers won't speak English to their kids at all in Kindergarten. If they have something really important that they need to make sure the kids understand, they either bring in the magnet resource teacher or swap classrooms. (Of course, Pumpkin figured out that this meant her teacher really does speak English, since her friends in the other classrooms reported that their teachers only spoke Spanish, but those teachers came into Pumpkin's class and spoke English... ) Starting in 3rd grade, they bring in increasing amount of English instruction. The promise is that if your kid stays in this school all the way through 8th grade, he or she will be fully bi-literate- i.e., able to read, speak, write, and comprehend other people's speech fluently in both English and Spanish.
The start of the school year was tough on Pumpkin. In retrospect, I think two things were happening at the same time. The first would have happened in any Kindergarten: she was struggling to learn the rules and rhythms of the new school, and to adjust to being the little kid again. The second was unique to the immersion program: she didn't have a clue what the teacher was saying a lot of the time, and she wasn't used to not knowing something.
In short, she was struggling to overcome an academic challenge- which is exactly one of the things we want her to experience. So intellectually, I knew that was a good thing. But emotionally... well, emotionally, I was a bit of a wreck, too.
But now- wow! Things are awesome. We just had our second parent-teacher conference today, and Mr. Snarky and I walked out of that so very, very happy with our choice for Pumpkin's school.
Pumpkin is now happy and thriving. She also learned what we hoped she would out of the experience at the beginning of the year: that sometimes things are hard, but that if you keep trying you can master them. I have even heard her prepping Petunia for her eventual entry into the school, telling Petunia that is hard at first, but after a few weeks it is a lot of fun.
So she's happy.
She talks about friends at home, and we hear her friends greet her and welcome her into their games when we drop her off at the onsite before school care. Several parents of her classmates (the ones that volunteer in the classroom) tell me that they think she is nice and caring.
So she has friends.
And her friends are from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. This was important to me, because I really appreciate that aspect of my own early education. I got the experience in my neighborhood school just by virtue of the fact that we weren't rich and our neighborhood was moderately socioeconomically and ethnically diverse. Pumpkin's neighborhood school is a great school, but would not have provided that diversity. I think that the chance to learn how to relate to peers who have very different assumptions and expectations and whose experiences are different from yours is a valuable educational experience. I think it has served me well in life. There are literally some things I learned from my friends in grade school about how money and race matter in our society that have stayed with me to this day. Of course, there are other ways to learn those things. But I still feel lucky that Pumpkin gets to have this chance to learn from her friends, too.
But all of that is the extras- the academics are the most important thing about school. Today, the teacher reported that she was thriving academically. She is reading Spanish at the level expected of a child finishing up first grade. She has mastered all the math concepts expected of her. She writes well above what the teacher expects- so much so, that her teacher gave her a blank notebook and is encouraging her to write her own stories in it. (I can't wait to tie that in with the fact that I've published the bedtime story I made up for her!)
Here is a sample of her recent work. It is a "book summary" she did for The Ugly Duckling (El Patito Teo):
|I love the sad duck drawing in the first panel.
Her teacher assured us that she truly knows all the words she uses, and that her comprehension is excellent- and then she showed us examples of her social studies work that demonstrates that.
We left the conference with recommendations for resources for more advanced math problems for her to do. I'd been just writing extra problems for her, but wanted something a little more structured. We aren't pushing hard on this, though, since she is so far feeling enough challenge with the language acquisition aspect of school. To help with that aspect, the teacher also loaned us a children's Spanish dictionary she can use to look up words from the Spanish books she brings home from the school library.
We've also had a chance to observe the overall programs at the school more closely, and so far, we are impressed (with the exception of the silly fundraisers). The school fielded several teams in a recent Lego robotics competition and in a recent math competition, and they did well. We see evidence that they are really serious about giving kids a well-rounded education, just in Spanish. And we love the culture of the place: watching the behavior of the older kids at the two holiday programs we've seen so far has impressed me.
So, hooray Pumpkin! And hooray being happy with our school choice. We may eventually find that the Spanish immersion isn't providing enough extra challenge, and that the school can't give her the challenge she needs in other areas. But we can deal with that if we come to it. Whatever happens, though, I am glad she did her Kindergarten at this school. It has exceeded our expectations.