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MIDVALE - Surrounded by his classmates, Jaden Ford, a fourth-grader in Midvale Elementary's language immersion program, says speaking two languages will give him more career options and a brighter future.
Jairo Lopez says you can make more friends speaking two languages. "It's hard at first, but once you learn, it's fun," Lopez says.
For the past several years, they and their classmates have taken the English and Spanish immersion program offered for Midvale students.
Krista Mecham has taught in the program for the past seven years and considers herself a fanatic of bilingual education. "I think everyone should be bilingual," Mecham says.
Jordan School District, where Midvale Elementary is located, is one of a number of districts in the state that offer language immersion programs.
Now, Granite School District is prepared to join them.
After two years of research, the district is ready to have its first-graders speaking and reading in more than one language through programs in two or three elementary schools starting in the fall.
It plans to start with Spanish and add Chinese and French in the future, said Gregg Roberts, the district's world language specialist.
Language immersion programs are "really good for kids," he said. "Young kids' minds are like sponges; they absorb language well."
Roberts and Charlene Lui, director of educational equity, were part of a committee that explored the feasibility of adding the program in the district.
The committee looked at programs both in state and across the country to get ideas. It initially considered implementing the program in kindergarten, but not all Granite schools offer all-day kinder- garten.
The committee eventually determined first grade would be a good place to start, and as the students progress, another grade will be added to the program so students can continue the language immersion through elementary school.
Participation in the program will be voluntary, and traditional instruction will remain available at all the sites.
Selected sites will be announced in January, and will be chosen based on the community's desire and need, as well as principal and staff support.
Half the students in each class will speak English as their first language, and half will be Spanish speakers.
The students will spend half of the day learning in English and the other half in Spanish.
Each class is expected to have about 25 students, with a total of 150 participants in the program at a maximum of three sites.
Roberts said Granite district already has several Spanish-speaking teachers and teachers endorsed to teach Spanish.
The program will use existing funding and resources, according to staff.
After hearing a presentation on the program at a recent Granite School Board meeting, board President Patricia Sandstrom said the district needs dual-language immersion programs like those in the Washington, Provo, Alpine, Jordan, Salt Lake and Davis districts.
"It's long overdue. It's a wonderful program. We need to prepare our students better for the 21st century," Roberts said. "The world we grew up in is not the world our students face today."
* ROXANA ORELLANA can be contacted at rorellana@ sltrib.com or 801-257-8693.
* Enable students to attain academic achievement that is at or above their grade level.
* Enable native English- and Spanish-speaking students to strengthen their primary language and learn to speak another world language.
* Improve cross-cultural understanding among all students.
Source: Granite School District