Spanish immersion students talk of future plans with new language skills

For one group of Paul Breaux Middle School eighth-graders, the bilingual advantage received as part of the school district’s Spanish immersion program is one that has prepared them for a future with multiple avenues.

“As an immersion student, you learn in a different way,” explained Alexis Sam, 14. “A teacher I once had told us that everybody’s gifted. We just learn in a different way. As immersion students, we process differently because we’ve learned a second language from a young age.”

Sam and her six other classmates began school together nine years ago as the first kindergartners to participate in the Lafayette Parish school system’s Spanish immersion classes.

The immersive learning experience has meant that since kindergarten, they’ve been taught math, science and social studies content in Spanish while only speaking English during their English language arts class time.

The district has about 175 Spanish immersion students compared with the more than 1,000 in French immersion, though that program has had more than 20 years to grow in an area tied to French-speaking settlers.

A smaller group of students — about 40 — are enrolled in Mandarin Chinese, the district’s latest immersion option, which began about four years ago.

Sam and her six classmates mark the conclusion of their Spanish immersion studies during a graduation ceremony Monday.

For now, the district does not have immersion opportunities in high school because the program is still building capacity, said Nicole Boudreaux, the district’s world language specialist.

Lafayette High School houses the district’s advanced language study courses.

Next school year, the Spanish immersion students have the option to take level-three or level-four Spanish courses at Lafayette High, depending upon their skill level, Boudreaux said.

Of the seven students who complete Spanish immersion at Paul Breaux this year, at least two plan to continue their Spanish language studies in high school.

The students shared their experiences in the program during a session Thursday organized to explain the program. The group responded to questions asked by their Spanish immersion social studies teacher, Michel Vautour, and responded in both English and Spanish.

Kiah Walker, 13, said learning Spanish offers her the opportunities to experience more through travel and careers. For Nilah Rosario, 14, she wants to be a nurse and a voice for patients who don’t speak English. Alexis Sam, 14, plans to pursue international studies and learn French, Italian and Arabic to pursue a career as a translator.

Brian Charles, 14, plans to pursue a career as a veterinarian and move out West, where he thinks he’ll be able to put his Spanish skills to use in his business. He also said that if he had the option to continue his Spanish immersion studies, he would.

“We’ve been through nine years and why not continue to learn Spanish?” Charles said.

Charles and Rosario plan to attend Lafayette High, where they’ll continue their Spanish studies.

Angelee Angel, 13, plans to explore her interest in law as part of Northside High’s legal studies academy.

Taylor Requena-Ozene, 14, aspires to explore her interest in design and to travel to the Dominican Republic and Spain.

When the students graduate high school, it’s possible that they’ll be part of the first class of high school seniors to receive a designation on their diploma that recognizes their bilingual skills. Legislation to recognize students’ proficiency in a foreign language with a “seal of biliteracy” was proposed this session by state Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, and Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, and was passed by the House and Senate.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter @Marsha_Sills.