Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spanish Immersion Progress Report

As regular readers know, we enrolled Pumpkin in a public magnet Spanish Immersion school. It is a Title 1 school that pulls kids from all over the San Diego district, but it also happens to be two blocks from our house.

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.


  1. Oh man, that school sounds amazing. We're loving T's Spanish immersion preschool as well, though they're not as hardcore about Spanish-only since half the kids do not speak Spanish at home. I wish they were more strict, but nonetheless T is picking it up like crazy.

    I really wish our public school had a Spanish option, but so far it doesn't. But we still have 2.5 years to go, so who knows what might happen between now and then...

  2. She's happy, she has friends, and she's thriving - music to my ears! How wonderful and what a relief for you!! And a mere 2 blocks from home? Awesome.

    Total immersion especially at ages 5-8+ is definitely the way to go. We have a local K-5 bilingual (non-immersion) school that does the opposite, waiting until 3rd grade to begin optional foreign language instruction for most students (except those who tested above grade level in reading in K - which has in reality amounted to 1 or 2 kids out of 115 every year). By 3rd grade, most non-native speaking kids have completely opted out of learning Spanish. Oy.

  3. I'm so glad that she is happy in her school.

    A friend who teaches math at a Spanish immersion school showed me math texts/workbooks that her school obtains from the Mexican consulate. I wonder if the Mexican consulate in SD also stocks them? That is an easy way to challenge her in math.

  4. Anonymous6:06 AM

    That's great! And it sounds like on top of the program working that you have an excellent teacher who knows how to do differentiation. That is SO important.

    If you want some extra math stuff in English, DC1 just finished up Math for Smarty Pants and enjoyed it. That was one of my favorites as a kid and I read and reread it. We also got Family Math, but haven't gone through it mainly because I can't find where it was put. On weekends we work through Singapore math because they're doing Saxon math at school and I love the way Singapore gets students to really understand how numbers work together from many different angles. (Saxon has a lot more rote in it.) Singapore doesn't actually have much English in it-- lots of pictures and arrows and things.

  5. Thanks, everyone!

    @badmomgoodmom, @nicoleandmaggie- thanks for the suggestions about math resources. One of the principles of immersion education is that something they learn in one language will translate to the other language, so we don't need any supplemental materials we use at home to be in Spanish. But it might be fun to find some!

  6. paola7:13 AM

    Glad to hear there is a little hope out there for American children who go through the public school sysyem. @Hush's post was kind of surreal seeing the public school system works extremely well here in the UK and Australia.

    Maths concepts translate well fortunately, and from what my Italian friends have told me, it is taught the same wasy as in the UK. At least when (if) we move back to Italy we won't have to go down that road again. Noah missed out on two whole years of Maths, as well as literacy and other subjects, with our move to the UK and has just now caught up (after 1.5 years of school here). And interestingly, but probably not all that surprisingly, the language they learn to count in, will be the language they will always count in.

    1. American public schools are highly variable. There are some truly bad schools out there, but also some truly great ones.

      I think Hush's case is more of her having a very gifted kid in an area without a lot of public school choice, and a local culture that doesn't push for differentiation within the school- I wouldn't generalize from it.

      But I wouldn't generalize too much from our experience, either- I think everyone has to look at their local situation and then figure out what is best.

      Meanwhile, I think we owe it to the kids in our country to work towards more uniformly excellent public education. I've been thinking about how that interacts with our need as parents to do what is best for our own kids... I may post about that at some point. But that is a more challenging post to write, so I need to do it at a time when I have the time to really work on it.

    2. Anonymous10:01 AM

      Our current public school options are worse than Hush's as well. We lived for a year in a pricey suburban community in a blue state where we would have had options more like Cloud's. There's definitely a lot of variation.

    3. Yes to what @Cloud and @nicoleandmaggie just said: don't generalize from my experience. Comparing rural American public schools with urban or suburban American public schools is a bit like comparing apples and pianos. A big reason was have such odd variety is that so much of the funding and the running of American public schools happens at the local level, and it is so uneven - often there are vast differences from one end of town to another. There are 50 different sets of state standards, some federal laws protecting certain groups of kids, plus local school board practices etc.

    4. the milliner7:46 PM

      @Paola, interesting note about counting. And it makes sense, I just never noticed it before!

    5. Anonymous8:49 PM

      "And interestingly, but probably not all that surprisingly, the language they learn to count in, will be the language they will always count in."

      Not necessarily -- and definitely not true for me. I think the language people count in is probably the language they use most. That seems to be the case with most of my friends who speak more than one language.

    6. I second what anonymous said above. I definitely count in English, even though I grew up speaking another language. My husband is from the same country, and we speak largely English to each other as that's what we use in all other situations. People are very pliable when it comes to language.

  7. So nice to hear it's all going well for Pumpkin. I've been following the spanish immersion experience here with interest as it's a magnet option at our neighborhood elementary. I'm conflicted b/c I think it sounds awesome and I wish I knew spanish, but my son has zero interest in it.

  8. mary d11:43 AM

    Jealous! We're looking hard at pulling our 6yo out of his school. No differentiation, no patience for fidgety little boys, no help for gifted students.

  9. the milliner7:55 PM

    Glad to hear Pumpkin is doing well and enjoying her school.

    And thanks for posting a follow up. DS will start at a French school in September. We live in a primarily french speaking city (with a lot of bilingual citizens) and DS' first daycare was primarily french (and Spanish! most of the educators' mother tongue was Spanish), so he's pretty familiar with the language, even if he's lost a lot of his vocabulary since switching to an English daycare.

    BUT, of course I am stressing about the transition for him. Especially since he's pretty sensitive and may feel overwhelmed if he feels like he can't express himself to his teacher (or the other kids). PRAYING for a good teacher who gets differentiation. His math and language skills in English are very strong (thanks to all for the Math resources above!), so I think having the challenge of language will be good for him. (Though unless his English teacher will get differentiation, he'll be twiddling his thumbs during English class). It's more on the social level that I'm worried.

    But yes, a lot of things you touched on in your progress report are things that have been on my mind or part of my concerns. This helps allay the fears a bit.

  10. Anonymous8:44 PM

    Great that Pumpkin is thriving! One nit: The Ugly Duckling is El Patito "Feo," not "Teo." Maybe Pumpkin can proofread your Spanish. :-)

    And why worry about challenging a child in K-8? These are the years when school should be *fun*, and almost anything, at this age, can be a learning experience. So "challenge" her with fun trips to museums, parks, and other interesting places, not additional homework problems. If she is that into HW, she'll come up with ways to challenge herself there. (I should know, I did!)

    1. Yes, my Spanish is terrible.

      The idea behind providing challenging academics in K-8 is that it helps the child learn how to handle not getting something right away, and having to work at it. Otherwise, they can get afraid to take on challenges later in life, because they missed out on the chance to learn that they can master things that don't come easily. Worst case scenario for smart kids who never learns that is a spectacular flame out when they finally hit something hard. I witnessed that several times, particularly at college, and would like to help my kids avoid that.

    2. Anonymous7:32 AM

      Learning *is* fun! It's only adults who think learning isn't fun.

      Not challenging a gifted kid leads to boredom and depression, which is not fun, or behavioral problems which are no fun for anybody.

      My kid LIKES doing additional work and LOVES what he is learning in school (and he's learning because he has skipped two grades). That last year of preschool his behavior was suffering and he wasn't sleeping because he wasn't learning anything. We see a huge difference in his happiness when he's being challenged at school or at daycamp. As he gets older he's better able to create his own challenges in ways that aren't dangerous, but if he doesn't do homework books on a weekend day he tends to act out. He needs an hour of intellectual stimulation and an hour of running around or he's unbearable.

      And there's the whole not hitting a wall thing that Cloud alludes to. Not so bad when it means a melt-down in a little kid who can learn from it and get support, pretty awful when it means a suicidal college student.

      (Tio means uncle-- I thought the story was about a small uncle duck...)

    3. Anonymous10:58 AM

      In my opinion, middle-to-high school (7-12) is the right time for academic challenge. At that point it will be obvious whether your kid is an academic overachiever or not; in the early years of school ... looks can be deceiving (and everyone's child is a gifted snowflake, no?). I don't know any college kid who committed suicide at my Ivy league school because they couldn't hack it academically; I do know a couple in my class who dropped out, though. But I know many more who weren't challenged academically, not even in high school, and the overwhelming amount of confidence they had in themselves allowed them to power through the difficulties. Yeah, it's not fun having to learn this at that late stage ... which is why I think it should happen in the middle/high school years. Because the flip side of what you're both describing are kids who only achieve academically to please their parents. These are the adults who, sadly, don't think that learning is fun, because they never did it for themselves. They are the ones who can't wait to get out of college with a piece of paper and never use their minds again -- talk about flame out!

      (@n&m: That would be "El Tio Patito")

    4. Anonymous12:02 PM

      There is a large amount of research on gifted kids, Anonymous. I suggest you read some of it if you're going to be making pronouncements on gifted education. Middle-school is far too late. "Let kids be kids" is one of the most annoying arguments that parents of gifted kids get when they're trying to make sure their children get challenged. The prevalence of that type of statement makes it far more difficult to keep our kids happy and having fun in their school environments. Opinions are not the same as evidence-based science, and without a research base opinions can be far more dangerous.

      Also @Anon, I didn't assume that a 5 year old had the grammar down perfectly (apologies to Cloud-- obviously she does), especially if she wasn't spelling the word correctly. And if you want to be really pedantic, there should be an accent over the i (instead of the e that I saw when I glanced over the caption, note that I also didn't read the English translation). Additionally, although stilted, The little duck uncle is still grammatically correct, it just has the potential to mean something slightly different than The Uncle Duck. (And no, you don't have to lecture me on the use of "de" or possessives.)

    5. Anonymous5:06 PM

      Oh, get over yourself, n&m! Could you be more condescending ... and just flat out wrong? There is indeed a fair amount of research on gifted kids, and the various, often contradictory approaches one sees implemented in gifted education are a direct reflection of the lack of consensus as to best practices in this field. I suspect there is no one "best" answer for every single child, just some averages.... But, of course, since I disagree with you, I must be wrong. Perhaps you'd rather wait until you get a letter from the dean of Harvard College telling you that your kid needs a break ... assuming he's lucky enough to make it in there in the first place.

      And on the grammar, you might want to acquire a sense of humor. Did you see the smiley face on the comment to Cloud? And no, I didn't point out the fact that you missed the accent on the "i" in tio to be nice to you. But I guess I've learned my lesson on the wisdom of that approach. And FWIW: from the picture of Pumpkin's work, it's not clear to me that she has misspelled the word -- that looks to me like it might be a lower case "f". I assumed it was Cloud's mistake. So now I hope we're done with the analysis here prompted by my one-sentence comment on this topic.

    6. Hey guys- let's tone this down. I happy to host a discussion about what the research on gifted education shows- heck, I'd probably benefit from such a discussion. But without quite so much venom, please.

      Personally, I think parents have to sort out what is right for their own child- different kids, even of similar intelligence, will do best with different approaches.

      But obviously, it would be good to inform your approach with the research.

      As for the teo/feo error- I have checked the original document, and can report that the error was in transcription. So it was mine. :)

    7. Anonymous3:13 AM

      @Cloud: So below is "less venom"? Good to know.... I, too, would've been happy to participate in a discussion about what the research on gifted kids shows -- hell, my wife is a published researcher in that field! But no one here seems interested in a discussion.

    8. @Anonymous, you essentially called @Nicoleandmaggie a bad parent. There is a difference between debating points strongly and putting out personal insults, and calling someone a bad parent is an insult, not debate.

      But you'll notice I didn't delete any of your comments, either.

    9. Anonymous11:23 AM

      @Cloud: Where did I "essentially" call her a bad parent? Would that be before or after she 1) implied that I was talking out of my ass when it comes to education for gifted kids, and 2) attempted to lecture me on the grammar of my mother tongue with her bizarre misreading? I don't think you're being very objective here at all.... And who said anything about deleting comments? I just find it interesting that your call for civility was meant to silence only the opinion that you disagree with.

    10. @Anonymous, my call for civility was not meant to silence anyone. It was meant to remind everyone to be civil. It clearly failed. I'm not sure what exactly you think I should do differently to treat you fairly?

      And frankly, I am not interested in wading in and policing right now so my next step is to just start deleting comments. This was meant to be a happy little post about how great my daughter is doing. I have a lot going on at work and at home this week so I specifically did not write a post I thought would need a lot of attention. I do not have the attention to give right now.

      For what it's worth, you'd probably find my actual parenting approach somewhere in between what you're advocating and what Nicoleandmaggie are doing. But that would be because my child and her child are different and have different needs.

      Also, I was very, very close to someone in college who derailed badly and painfully because he hit his first real challenge in his third year of college. I will admit that my opinions are informed by wanting to spare my children that experience. I am taking the steps that I think will best prepare my daughter for a happy life. I am sure I am not perfect, but I am doing my best.

      If you want to have a discussion, civil or not, about the best way to educate gifted kids, by all means, start a blog and come back here and leave a link. I'm sure a few people will follow you over and have a discussion.

      Finally, people who comment here often and have an identity I recognize and a history with me get more leeway than strangers who drop by as "anonymous". It has nothing to do with whose opinion I agree with and everything to do with a history that provides context.

  11. Anonymous6:35 PM

    Ah, anonymous, it is SOOOO easy to say nasty things to someone when you hide under Anonymous.

    FYI, Harvard is a cake-walk (it's pretty easy to get through most of the ivies for undergrad once you get in, and Harvard has especially high grade inflation... kids stress themselves out over extra-curriculars there, not over classwork). My children would not have any problems at Harvard even if I weren't making sure they were getting adequate challenges in their early years. However, it is likely that they will want to go someplace more challenging for school (and no, I don't care if they get in to Harvard and I wouldn't encourage them to apply for undergrad there in the first place). BECAUSE I want them to have the tools that they need to support their desires, both in college and beyond, I want them to face and conquer challenges as children. So that they don't melt down in college or graduate school or on the job.

    That's what Cloud said as well. (Though I detailed more immediate reasons for needing adequate challenges in addition to that reason.)

    And, on a personal level, I have seen what happens to incredibly intelligent people who have never been challenged until they get to college or graduate school. I've had friends who have attempted suicide, I've been an RA for students facing break-downs (at a school much more difficult than Harvard). They're not the ones who have gotten the occasional B prior to getting in. They're the ones who have never been challenged in their lives, who were always the smartest at their old school. Whose lives were defined by being the best. And no, they weren't the children of Tiger moms. College is a great place to learn how to be a rebel, so dropping pre-med seemed to be a more likely reaction to over-bearing parents than taking a bottle of pills.

    You seem to think that we provide challenges because we're hot-housing our children, which is ridiculous. We are doing our best to meet their needs, and they are real needs. Hot-housing is overblown anyway, something I'm fairly sure the NYTimes invented, or only exists in coastal cities.

    The things you say are dangerous for gifted kids, and lead to parents having a hard time getting their children's needs met. They lead to a hostile environment for gifted children and their parents.

    Here's some suggested reading if you (or anyone) want to get an actual research base: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/reading-books-on-giftedness/ That's the best of the 50-odd books I read when my son started out-growing his preschool and we had to figure out what to do next. There's a long list of possible ways to educate gifted kids, and "let kids be kids" is not on that list, at least not in an institutional environment (home schooling a motivated kid, sure, but you'll likely find that kid's definition of being a kid involves learning).

    "Let kids be kids" is harmful. Are you the same anonymous who was being a bitch on the last thread? Why not call yourself Anon33 or something? If you're the only person who posts as Anonymous, I guess we can just consider it to be your user name anyway.


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