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4 myths about struggling students and immersion programs

Instructional support for add.a.lingua partner programs comes in a wide variety of forms but there’s one topic that comes up All. The. Time.

Teachers, administrators, point people and parents reach out to our team to ask the following question:

What about students who struggle in immersion education?

There’s certainly room in the field for more research on students who struggle in immersion programs, but existing research combined with our collective decades of experience as practitioners lead us to some clear answers to this question.

To unpack those answers, we’ll explore four far-too-common myths about struggling students in immersion programs.

Myth #1: Immersion programs should only be for students without struggles.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Research illustrates time and time again that children who acquire one language can acquire two! Any program that sends the message that “certain kids” shouldn’t be in immersion programs or “certain kids” who struggle should leave the program either a) hasn’t done its research, or b) hasn’t planned intentionally to meet the needs of ALL learners.

Bottom line: with the growing body of research in the field on students with language disorders, cognitive delays, and more, we know that ALL children can benefit from bilingual educational opportunities. Just take it from leading researcher in the field of dual language immersion education, Dr. Tara Fortune:

“Until there is strong research evidence indicating that learners with certain language and/or learning disabilities are better served when schooled through one language only, there is no reason to deny the cognitive and linguistic enrichments of a dual language education to any child. Indeed, by achieving some level of bilingualism, a competence that is perceived as beyond the norm by some, dual language learners who struggle in school can earn a much-needed boost to their self-esteem” (Tara Fortune of CARLA as cited in Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan, 2013).


Schools would do right by kids and their families by sending the message that immersion can be for ALL. Then, they need to follow-up on that messaging by ensuring that there are sufficient supports in place so that all can experience success.

Myth #2: The struggles are the fault of the immersion language.

We use a variety of factors in the U.S. to study correlations between students’ demographics and their level of success in the school setting. For the dual language immersion student, those same factors are at play — regardless of the language in which they’re learning.

Savvy dual language immersion program principals and teachers won’t use those factors as a rationale to exit a child from the program or prohibit him from even starting. Additionally, program leaders that know the research and are equipped with supports will ensure that families can make informed decisions based on the GOALS they have for their child instead of fears or what the “odds” say about any particular subgroup or demographic.

When parents are considering removing their child from an immersion classroom, well-informed administrators and teachers will share examples like these:

  • A child who struggles with early literacy in Spanish is more than likely going to experience the same or similar struggles in English.
  • A child who makes letter reversals in Spanish writing, typically does so in English, too.
  • A child who struggles with the sequencing of events in Spanish regularly exhibits the same pattern in English.
  • A child who experiences variations in self-control in the immersion classroom often does the same when they go to an English-only classroom.

Ultimately, it comes down to parent choice. Many families who remove their children from immersion programs do so because they often think that “going back to English” will cure all issues. Often times, this is done in the absence of (or with doubts about) examples like the ones we’ve listed.

Families who do pull their students from the immersion program often report they regret their decision years later. This is why we implore dual language immersion program leaders and teachers to, instead of asking, “Should this child leave the program?”, ask,

What are this child’s strengths?
How can we use those to better meet her needs within the immersion program?
What steps will we take to best serve this child?

Myth #3: When students struggle, we should “do more English”.

We get how this might seem counterintuitive, but if the language immersion program is of high quality…adding more English to the school day doesn’t make the difference. At all.

“Contrary to popular belief, beginning instruction in English earlier in elementary school and providing more instruction in English during the elementary school grades do not result in better outcomes in English for either native speakers of English or ELLs (English Language Learners)” (Genesee, 2004; Lindholm-Leary, 2010 as cited in Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan, 2013).

We know what you’re thinking. We really do. “What about those partial immersion programs or the models that have a lot more English much earlier? Isn’t that better for kids? Doesn’t their English turn out better thanks to that added time?”

Students who speak English at home who are enrolled in early-total immersion programs, as well as English Language Learners (ELLs) in 90/10 two way immersion programs have shown over and over that they “…achieve the same levels of proficiency in English as students in 50/50 programs even though the latter have more exposure to English in school” (Genesee, 2004; Lindholm-Leary, 2010 as cited in Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan, 2013).

That’s why we at add.a.lingua are so excited about our early-total and 90/10 models. They’re associated with the highest outcomes — in English AND Spanish. two dual language immersion models explainedThe kids get more of the immersion language (and at higher levels of quality because of the time & intensity), AND their English doesn’t suffer. That’s more bang for the buck!

Myth #4: Parents can’t help their children who struggle if they’re in an immersion program.

So. Not. True. Parents, you’re your child’s greatest model, advocate, and teacher. YOU and your positive attitude, excitement for your child’s education, and constant commitment to understanding your child’s needs make all the difference.

Here are four things that pack a big punch when parenting a child who struggles in the immersion program (Hint…They’re not different from what we’d suggest for ANY parent of a child in ANY type of setting!):

  1. Connect with your child’s teacher. He’ll be able to let you know what they’re working on in class, and what your child’s goals are.
  2. Don’t freak out…in front of your child. Children can be canaries in the coal mine: they KNOW when you’re wigging out inside and it only adds stress to the plate. Save your fears for conversations with your child’s teacher and/or the program coordinator. Generate your list of questions (and if you need to, check out our informed parent guide for ideas of what to ask), and bring it with you to a meeting. When you’re with your child, dialogue with her about her school experience. Stay engaged.
  3. Enjoy reading at home with, to, and by your child. MODEL reading — by yourself, silently (instill the lifelong value of it), with your child in English (build joy for it), listen to your child read in Spanish (show that even adults are “learners”!).
  4. Provide homework/project support for what does come home in English. Let your child know you’re there for him (but that you won’t do the work FOR him!) and that you’ll use your English skills as a support. For items that come home in Spanish, don’t respond with your hands in the air shouting, “Well, it’s in Spanish…how am I supposed to know what to do?!?!” Instead, encourage your student to focus on what she CAN do first. See what’s left. Connect with the teacher about any struggles,  consider setting up a study group with his peers after school, or advocate for supports beyond the school day.

Don’t let these myths hold you and your students back. Parents and educators, you CAN do this!

Parents,  want to learn more about how to advocate for your child and your immersion program? Don’t miss our informed parent guide.

Educators, learn more about high quality dual language immersion programs and how to build them in our informed educator guide.

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new professional learning topics from add.a.lingua

We take professional learning very seriously. So seriously that we have developed a five year professional learning and add.a.lingua certification cycle for our partner teachers, administrators and point people. Yes, you read correctly – FIVE YEARS!

add.a.lingua pd – flexible. differentiated. immersion specific.

We know that there are very few (as in less than four) colleges or universities in the U.S. that offer a degree or certificate in dual language immersion education. That’s why a major focus of our mission is equipping educators with the skills and tools to build high quality dual language immersion programs – because they won’t get this training anywhere else!

As we shared last spring, due to the need for greater flexibility, we’ve partnered with the folks at to create an intuitive, collaborative, and user-friendly pd experience. Offering differentiated professional learning that can be tackled asynchronously has been game changing for our immersion partner programs.

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150 new immersion lessons (and growing)

In the past nine months, we’ve released over 150 LESSONS for our partner educators! Not only that, but we continue to build our learning library which includes supplemental content covering topics relevant to our immersion partners. Some examples include:

  1. English Specific Skills (ESS) introduction examples – this lesson includes videos, sample plans, pictures, ideas and schedules for the English portion of our program models (early total one-way; 90-10 two-way)
  2. English Specific Skills (ESS) in the content area – this lessons helps teachers understand how to embed the English Specific Skills into the context of a science lesson
  3. intervention guidelines for the struggling learner in the immersion context – this lesson includes an interview with Dr. Tara Fortune, co-author of Struggling Learners and Language Immersion Education: Research-Based, Practitioner-Informed Responses to Educators’ Top Questions
  4. how to hire, develop and keep a quality immersion teacher team – this lesson includes practical suggestions and tools for administrators trying to build stellar teams

how educators are responding to add.a.lingua pd

As we continue to explore creative ways to bring our add.a.lingua professional learning and certification to the next level, we are grateful to be in partnership with such dedicated educators.

The response and feedback has been outstanding:

“The information on prompting students and providing corrective feedback was very helpful. It put many great ideas in my back pocket that I plan to incorporate into my lesson plans.”

“Great to see and reflect on where I was on the scale of teaching, focusing on where to improve in order to reach refinement.”

“It really was good to reflect on what I see in the classroom. The number of times that I think about what didn’t get done or what could have been done is countless. The number times that I’ve taken to reflect and think about the fruit of the work that we are fortunate to do in the classroom is few. This was uplifting.”

Looking for learning opportunities for your immersion teaching or leadership team? Let’s talk.

Are you interested in learning more about how add.a.lingua partners with schools communities to language and grow quality dual language immersion programs? Are you looking for professional learning opportunities for your teaching team?


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How to focus on English Specific Skills (ESS) (and avoid double teaching in Spanish immersion classrooms!)

There are three letters that every immersion educator must know:  E.  S.  S.

ESS stands for English Specific Skills. Knowing what these skills are and how and when to introduce them in the classroom will impact everything from immersion program design to the instructional practice you’ll see in classrooms.

What are English Specific Skills (ESS)?

These are surface features unique to the English language like apostrophe placement with contractions or spelling patterns that DON’T make the sounds you’d expect. Think about the funny -igh word families for example. In fact, did you know there are no punctuated contractions or “igh” word families in Spanish? It’s true!

English specific skills refer to the concepts and patterns that need to be explicitly taught in order for students to master these idiosyncratic features of the English language.

Most skills learned in Spanish do transfer to English (Hooray!)

The good news is that most of the linguistic skills that add.a.lingua immersion students develop in Spanish do, in fact, transfer to English. What Dr. Tara Fortune calls  the “gift of early literacy instruction in Spanish” is why add.a.lingua supports just two time-intensive immersion models. (It may seem counterintuitive, but more instructional time spent in English doesn’t actually result in better English outcomes for students.)

two dual language immersion models explained

add.a.lingua’s two supported immersion models

Why is understanding “transferable versus non-transferable” skills so important?

Teachers who fully understand the difference between skills and concepts that transfer from Spanish to English and those that don’t, make sure every instructional minute counts and contribute to the quality of dual language  immersion programs. add.a.lingua classroom teachers rely on a K-8  structural scope and sequence and a non-transferable English Specific Skills framework so they feel confident about where to spend their valuable instructional time.

For example, savvy immersion teachers know that teaching students the structure of an essay or the concept of 2 + 2 becoming 4 is something that can be learned in ANY language.  They don’t need to “re-teach” these concepts in English after they’ve taught and ensured student mastery of of them during Spanish instructional time.

Every essay needs a good introduction, regardless of the language in which it’s written! For that matter, 2 + 2 is always 4 – in any language. add.a.lingua teachers TRUST the model of  “common underlying proficiency”(Cummins, 1979) and don’t feel the urge to “add more English time” into the schedule.

How do add.a.lingua immersion programs introduce English Specific Skills (ESS)?

Through a well-planned and articulated ESS experience across the grade levels, add.a.lingua immersion programs ensure that the critical surface features of the English language that don’t transfer directly from Spanish receive targeted attention.

During ESS time, students explore the English language through a core content area such as science or social studies. They write across the curriculum, engage in word study in English, and explore patterns in the English language.

In this brief video, add.a.lingua director, Stephanie Irizarry, introduces English specific skills (ESS) within the context of a 4th grade science lesson about physical properties at Holland Language Academy. She spent time at the start of the science lesson reviewing ESS. Once the students wrapped up their hands-on science experiment, she asked the students to use those same English Specific Skills to enhance their learning through dialogue and writing. Doing so helped these young scientists accurately express their learning!

The add.a.lingua ESS frameworks provide the roadmap for teachers and students with respect to grammatical features, word features of focus, and a four-part word wall that gets baked into core content instruction.

When do add.a.lingua immersion programs introduce English specific skills?

In our early total one way immersion programs, English specific instruction begins in 3rd grade. In our 90-10 two way programs, English specific instruction begins in kindergarten. As noted above, the English specific skills introduced during English instructional time are always contextualized within core content areas because every minute counts.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “But, wouldn’t it make more sense to “do English” during an official English Language Arts class during the day? Especially in the upper grades? Our answer: No. Students need a context in which to explore English Specific Skills, make connections to the Spanish language and to become grade level biliterate. Our model avoids the add-on of a “fifth core class” because it’s not needed.

How do I know if our dual language program has a plan?

Well, instruction won’t involve teaching the same things twice, first in Spanish and then again in English.  If the dual language immersion program that your child attends is of high quality and is intentionally articulated, there is absolutely NO NEED to teach conceptual skills twice.

Rather than spending precious instructional time covering concepts that actually transfer across languages, the program should equip students with conceptual skills like essay writing and math facts as well as with a DEEP awareness of  how their two languages are unique and different!

Here’s the bottom line: ALL high quality dual language immersion programs need a plan for how they’ll help students master English Specific Skills.

If you’re an immersion program administrator or a teacher and would like to learn more about how add.a.lingua helps our partners with ESS, we’d love to talk. Fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch.

And if you’re a current or prospective immersion parent, don’t be afraid to ask your school administrator to see their plan for helping students develop mastery of English specific skills. (And be sure to check out 6 questions parents should ask before enrolling their child in a dual language immersion program and our informed parent guide.)


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add.a.lingua immersion and love for Puerto Rico: increasing student cultural awareness

One of my greatest joys is the opportunity I have to talk with administrators, point people, and teachers about what matters to them in their add.a.lingua immersion programs.

Our conversations cover the intricacies of the add.a.lingua frameworks, discussing how current decisions in the program impact the overall implementation of its design, and most frequently (and my favorite) conversing about student learning.

measuring increased cultural awareness in add.a.lingua immersion

Student learning in add.a.lingua immersion programs manifests itself in a wide variety of ways, although each is connected to one of the three goals of immersion education:

  1. academic achievement
  2. high levels of proficiency in both the immersion language and English
  3. increased cultural awareness and sensitivity

Recently, Militza Mendoza, point person and third grade teacher at Covenant Christian School in Mishawaka, IN shared a story during an add.a.lingua office hour that relates beautifully to that often difficult-to-measure third goal from the list above. Her students and their families went above and beyond to illustrate the level of awareness, care and sensitivity that learning Spanish has helped create.

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Militza Mendoza in her classroom of third graders.

On September 20, hurricane María wrought havoc on the island of Puerto Rico, Militza Mendoza’s homeland. The fear of the hurricane itself was surpassed by the fear of the aftermath in the days after the storm. Militza feared her family was in danger or had been harmed.

Covenant Christian School pulls together for Puerto Rico

Concerns grew when all communication severed between the island and the U.S. mainland for weeks after the storm. That was when her classroom of students, and the Covenant Christian community stepped in to offer support to the teacher and point person they care so deeply about, and in turn, to the island of Puerto Rico.

Her students began writing letters of love and encouragement. Check out what they had to say.

Letter to Puerto Rico from JustinDear Puerto Rican friends,

Hi, my name is Justin and I live in Indiana. Do you want to know how I know how to speak Spanish? It’s because my teacher is Puerto Rican and she’s teaching me Puerto Rican Spanish. I’m writing this letter because I know that you guys are passing through a tough time and I want to send you strength. I don’t know you, but I know that you’re great and I wrote a song for you and your family. It’s like Despacito, but different and I’m going to send it with this paper. If you know my teacher, Militza Mendoza, she’s the best in the world and she’s Puerto Rican. She says that we should write letters so that kids who are feeling sad know that God is with them.

Justin from Covenant Christian

Letter 2 to Puerto Rico

Dear Puerto Rican students,

Hi, my name is Juliana Belcher and I want to help Puerto Rico. I want to help so much that I’ve written a song. I’ve visited Puerto Rico before the hurricane and I want for it to look as beautiful as it did before [the storm]. So, I gave money for Puerto Rico and I’m going to have a concert and people will give lots of things for Puerto Rico not only for kids but also teachers. I feel for you.

This is just a pair of the heart filled letters sent to Puerto Rico by Covenant Christian’s add.a.lingua immersion program students.

As their initiative gained momentum, the families wanted to do even more than write student drawing of a heart for Puerto Rican students impacted by hurricanes.letters. They planned, ideated, and responded to the need by donating pallets of goods to the people on the island.

Check out the news link below to see the impact that Militza Mendoza’s students and their greater school community have had (8 tons of supplies!). And to think…the students are able to express themselves so clearly, so eloquently and so passionately in the language spoken by the heart of the recipients. That, we know, makes it mean even more upon arrival.

Mishawaka students send truck load of supplies to Puerto Rico

8 tons of supplies sent to Puerto Rico

learning Spanish increases student cultural awareness and sensitivity

It’s more challenging to measure one’s cultural sensitivity than, perhaps, academic achievement or language skills. But, we’d dare to say that the connections these students are making using language as the engine to inspire action is a definite example of success toward that third goal.

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add.a.lingua leadership un-conference: five ways to increase your leadership bandwidth and network

We’re serious about helping our add.a.lingua partner school administrators grow in their craft and lead their programs well. But rather than assuming we know exactly what they need, we’re committed to listening, first and foremost, to the challenges our partners face.

It’s this practice of listening that allows us to iterate and develop learning experiences to address the macro and micro challenges they face.

an un-conference designed for busy leaders to collaborate

Based on the feedback from our partner leaders, we know that carving out time for a multi-day conference (plus travel) is a challenge. That’s why we’re pivoting this year, and just like we’ve done for immersion teachers, we’re moving content typically presented at leadership institute to our online learning management system. This means all that good learning can happen asynchronously, at a time and place that works for leaders.

And we’re offering our very first add.a.lingua un-conference–a time for collaboration and learning among immersion leaders of all experience levels. Not sure what an un-conference is or if this experience is for you? Go ahead and check out our five ways to increase your leadership bandwidth and network below.

1. Watch and listen to this video from my other (business) half.

 2. Be on the look out for two things:

  • online add.a.lingua leadership institute course specific to your pd level (assignments will appear on your dashboard some time in late March)
  • leadership institute un-conference topic selection survey that allows you to help us shape a loosely structured agenda for our on-site event (the survey will be headed your way in the next week or so)

3. Offer your input when the survey arrives and consider either facilitating or participating in a topic discussion (or two).

4. Picture yourself at the leadership institute un-conference guided by leaders, relevant for leaders and filled with organic conversation amongst leaders.

Yep – we really want to honor to your feedback from 2017 leadership institute.

5. Book a train, plane or automobile to attend add.a.lingua program tours (April 11) and the first annual leadership institute un-conference (April 12).

We’ll be gathering right here in our very own un-Florida-like West Michigan–watch your inbox for more details as the event draws closer.

I’ll sign off with this final piece of wisdom from Margaret Fuller:

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.

If the inspiring quote from Ms. Fuller isn’t enough to get you to the add.a.lingua leadership institute un-conference, just anticipate how the cocreated agenda, the eats, the treats and the discussions will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside despite the Michigan chill on the outside!

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add.a.lingua immersion means whole school impact: reflections from Redlands Christian Lower School

One of the most encouraging things we’ve discovered over years of partnership with innovative school communities is that the resources, support, and training that add.a.lingua provides to educators in our immersion partner programs don’t stay in the immersion program.

Nearly all add.a.lingua partner schools operate immersion strand programs alongside their English programs, and these immersion programs very often serve as a catalyst for positive change in both strands. Some of the things we hear most regularly from our partners include:

  • add.a.lingua training has encouraged all teachers to reflect on instructional strategies (ex. how much student talk do we expect, and how much teacher talk?)
  • add.a.lingua’s formative assessment and data tracking has challenged school leaders to think about how data impacts instruction, intervention, and decision making generally
  • add.a.lingua’s language targets and strategies across content areas for immersion teachers inspires teachers in English classrooms to attend to English language acquisition across content areas as well
  • the immersion program has brought with it a healthy linguistic and cultural diversity that benefits all students and teachers


To help us understand how Redlands Christian School (RCS) has been impacted as a whole by their add.a.lingua immersion program, we connected with Julie In’t Hout, Director of Spanish Immersion at RCS. Julie and the team at RCS have experienced tremendous enrollment growth and we’re excited to share a bit of their story.

Why did Redlands Christian decide to implement an add.a.lingua Spanish immersion program?

RCS first decided to pursue implementing an immersion program because our administration was looking to add value, particularly when it means competing with other educational options. Adding immersion was a way to bring additional value to our RCS families, to create an environment that develops the whole child, and to increase our appeal to those considering sending their child to RCS. Connected to that, the interest in adding an add.a.lingua immersion program was significant, and and the RCS leadership team knew there was a good chance that having an immersion program would boost enrollment overall.

Another part of the decision to implement our immersion program was the many positive effects on student academic achievement and cultural competence that are associated with second language


acquisition in immersion settings. We at RCS also knew we couldn’t do it on our own, and that we wanted to have add.a.lingua to help us through the process. We knew that we wanted our immersion program to be a high-quality program, and that we wanted expert guidance.

Describe some of the positive outcomes of implementing an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program for students and families.

  • Significant enrollment boost (our preschool class was made up of 18 students before immersion; this year we have 75 preschoolers–35 in non-immersion, 40 in immersion)
  • Enhanced the culture at the school; families more culturally aware
  • Teachers are well-trained in best practices and it pushes us to question practices and curriculum in non-immersion classrooms and settings as well
  • Student identities have been formed; students are proud and confident in their ability to speak in Spanish
  • Added new perspective and diversity to our staff
  • Buzz for the school
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Redlands Christian Lower School Spanish immersion team (2016)

What were the initial concerns that your community expressed when you were exploring adding an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program, and have they been overcome?

Many wondered if children would truly be able to learn content through a different language.  As we’ve seen students grow in their Spanish language proficiency, and perform across across all content areas, this issue has largely been resolved.

There were also concerns that enrollment and interest in our English track would suffer as a result of offering a Spanish immersion track. We’ve seen enrollment grow overall as since implementing an add.a.lingua immersion program, but this could still be considered a concern for non-immersion classroom teachers and staff.

Additionally, many families are set on having a particular English strand teacher because of their reputation or the precedent that was set by siblings having had that teacher. For many families this is no longer a factor, but it is one reason that families continue to choose our quality English strand. Our immersion teachers are working hard to build their reputations and rapport with our families too.

Finally, there’s the ongoing challenge of finding teachers who are highly qualified and fit well at RCS. This is still a concern, but each year we have found great teachers.

What do you believe is most critical for other Christian school leaders to know when considering an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program?

It takes a lot of effort to implement an add.a.lingua immersion program (money, time, energy, risk), but we can also point to tremendous benefits that having the program has provided: overcoming challenges, improved overall instructional practices on campus, enrollment, cultural awareness and connection to our local community, new student identities/confidence, etc. It has been completely worth the work and challenges, and we couldn’t have done it would having add.a.lingua alongside us.

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what’s it like to teach in (and out) of an add.a.lingua partner school?

We often remind families and schools leaders that “not all immersion programs are created equal”. Sarah Vander Laan is a top notch immersion teacher who has experienced this firsthand.

Sarah began as a teacher in an add.a.lingua program, assisted with add.a.lingua framework development, and facilitated professional learning at our summer events. She’s been a part of the add.a.lingua family for years.

When Sarah made a move to a new state and school system a few years ago, we were sad to see her leave the add.a.lingua network, but we also knew that she’d continue her good work helping students acquire multilingualism wherever she landed.

Sarah brought her excellent instructional practices and love for students to a dual language immersion program that doesn’t partner with add.a.lingua. When reflecting on the difference between her experience of working in an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program and in an immersion program that doesn’t partner with add.a.lingua, here’s what Sarah had to say:

We as immersion teachers know that we are both content AND language teachers. We have to wear both hats for our students to achieve content objectives using the target language. Effectively wearing the language teacher hat takes strategic planning for language development, targeted professional development, and language-focused resources.

When I taught in an add.a.lingua school, I didn’t realize how unique it was that we were provided with all of these resources! add.a.lingua took the guess work out of planning because we all knew what we needed to do to support our students’ language development. We had the resources we needed, like anchor lessons, sorts, and picture vocabulary cards. We also had training every year and access to a collaborative site for fellow immersion teachers.

I now teach in an immersion program that does not partner with add.a.lingua. We wish we had a scope & sequence across grade levels, a clear plan for language proficiency development, and (especially) the curricular resources in the target language. Not to mention the professional development opportunities to help us hone our craft as language teachers!

As Sarah notes, we provide immersion educators at our partner schools around the nation with the resources and training in immersion pedagogy they need to successfully attend to the teaching of content and language. We help keep our partners’ immersion programs on track with academic frameworks that are aligned to the common core, and compatible with the curriculum that they’ve selected.

If you’re interested in experiencing add.a.lingua’s resources and training for yourself or for your immersion teaching team, send us a note using the form below. We love to give demonstrations of our resource and assessment platform, and take groups on tours of our immersion partner programs. Let’s talk!


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embracing change in Catholic education: Joanne Jones on add.a.lingua 90-10 two way immersion

“The face of Catholic America is changing.”

So begins the Pew Center in a 2015 report on the state of U.S. Catholic church. It’s not news that Hispanics are growing as a percentage of the U.S. population, but the percentage of U.S. Catholics who are Hispanic is growing at an even greater rate. This demographic change comes along with a significant linguistic opportunity for educators, and it’s an opportunity that Jo Jones, principal of Corpus Christi Catholic School, has embraced wholeheartedly.

The share of U.S. Catholics who are Hispanic has grown by 5 percentage points since 2007 (from 29% to 34%)…And, the share of Catholics who are Hispanic is likely to continue to grow; among Catholic millennials, as many are Hispanic (46%) as are white (43%).” – Pew Center

Principal Jones spearheaded the launch of an add.a.lingua 90-10 two way immersion program 4 years ago, and since that time has become a strong proponent of immersion education within the Catholic school community. It was a delight to interview Joanne this month to get her perspective on what the implementation of an add.a.lingua 90-10 two way immersion program has meant for her school community and the growing number of Latino Catholic families they serve.

Why did Corpus Christi decide to implement an add.alingua Spanish immersion program?

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Principal Joanne Jones

A group of very interested parents realized that our community had the linguistic diversity to be able to pull off an immersion program. We were already a diverse school, but the big change for us came when we acknowledged the gift of that diversity.

What have been some of the positive outcomes of implementing an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program for students and families?

Implementing an immersion program in partnership with add.a.lingua has been central to pulling our English and Spanish language communities together. In a 90-10 two way program, our Spanish dominant students and their home language and culture are treated as a gift, and because language is no longer a barrier, we’ve experienced the participation of parents who might otherwise be less involved.

Our Spanish immersion program has been a major part of transforming our school culture. We now have school wide dinners four times each year, and we’ve changed our hiring practices to consider the multilingual needs of our community. It’s been a beautiful thing.

Span immersion teaching team

What were some of the initial concerns the your community expressed when you were exploring adding an ad.a.lingua dual language immersion program, and have they been overcome?

Initially, there was concern at the leadership level that we wouldn’t have the resources or bandwidth to implement an add.a.lingua dual language program well, given all the other priorities and programs already in place. West Michigan is also home to lots of other add.a.lingua partner schools, and there was some concern that there might be too much competition for us to be successful.

What’s really gratifying is to see that the program has truly become a point of pride for many of the folks that raised these concerns in the beginning. The families involved in the program realized the benefits right away, and so there weren’t major concerns from our parents. We’ve continued to grow our enrollment, thanks in large part to the addition of our add.a.lingua immersion program.

Students who come to school with a home language other than English are very often marginalized in a typical traditional school setting. In an add.a.lingua 90-10 two way immersion setting, their language and culture become cherished. The model simply doesn’t work without them. So for me, the big win is we’ve taken a significant step to elevate marginalized students, and to prepare them for life of service and leadership in whatever sphere God calls them.

What do you believe is most critical for Catholic school leaders to know when considering an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program?

It’s important to realize that you have to invest in the immersion program, and it’s a long term investment. It’s going to be some time for your school and students to really begin to see results.

But you simply can’t call yourself a best practice school if you serve a linguistically diverse community and you haven’t even explored the add.a.lingua 90-10 two way model. This is how students learn two languages best. They learn two languages in addition to experiencing academic and social benefits.

Why do you think adding an add.a.lingua Spanish immersion option makes strategic sense for Catholic School communities?

Catholics More Likely Than Other Americans to Be Hispanic, ImmigrantsNearly 60% of Latinos in the U.S. are practicing Catholics. They represent over a 1/3 of all U.S. Catholics, and that number is growing. So if a Catholic school doesn’t have Latinos enrolling, it’s because there’s some barrier. What better way to remove barriers than to speak someone’s language and honor their culture? We’ve simply got to do this.

Want to learn more about add.a.lingua 90-10 two way immersion? Watch Principal Iliana Vásquez Ochoa explain the model and how it benefits both Spanish and English dominant students below, and send us a note if you’d like learn more.






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introducing: add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way immersion

What is the add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way immersion?

The add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way immersion model was designed to serve students in linguistically diverse communities, where classrooms can include an equal mix of Spanish dominant and English dominant students. Students begin with 90% of their instructional time in Spanish (the immersion language) and 10% in English in kindergarten, and gradually increase the amount of English instructional time until they reach 50% in each language in 5th grade.

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Why do school communities choose the add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way  immersion model?

As Iliana notes in the video, parents chose the add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way model for the benefits it gives their children in terms of academic achievement, cultural awareness, and proficiency in multiple languages.

School communities also choose this model to better serve their English language learner (ELLs) students. One in ten U.S. students qualifies as an English language learner, and unfortunately, this group of students has the lowest graduation rates of all at-risk subgroups.

To understand how life changing an add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way immersion program can be, listen to Maria Ibarra, who shared on our podcast last year how Holland Language Academy has changed her family’s life:

This program is helping me, because I’ve become more involved and whatever doubt I have I can solve it because there are people there who can help me. In other experiences, in another school where they spoke solely English, I really struggled to express concerns that I had about my child, and they couldn’t help me because I didn’t know English and I didn’t understand them. For me, there were many experiences that were extremely difficult, and so truthfully, I sometimes cried because of an inability to advocate, because of feelings of desperation…all because I didn’t know English…thank God that I found this program and my life has changed. My son’s life has changed. His self esteem. He doesn’t want to miss a single day of school.

Where can you find an add.a.lingua 90-10 dual language immersion program?

Three of our partner schools, (Holland Language Academy, Corpus Christi Catholic School, and Holy Cross School) have implemented this add.a.lingua model in order to help their students gain high proficiency in two languages, boost academic achievement, and enlarge their cultural intelligence.

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Is an add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way immersion program right for your community?

If you have a passion for ensuring educational equity for all students in your community, and for meeting the needs of linguistically diverse families, an add.a.lingua 90-10 two-way immersion program might be a great fit for your school. Let’s talk!

Our special thanks go to add.a.lingua partner program, Holland Language Academy and principal Ochoa, for opening their doors and hearts to us. ¡Abrazos!

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launch notes: what it’s like to build and grow an add.a.lingua Spanish immersion program

Are you exploring the possibility of launching a dual language immersion program?

Good for you! Considering the academic, linguistic and social benefits that accompany high proficiency in two languages, this is one of the most strategic moves you can make on behalf of your students and community.

But as you’ve probably already discovered–this is no small undertaking.

You’ll want time, experience, research, community ownership, and resources (personnel, financial, curricular, etc.) all at your disposal in order to get your program off the ground.

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Even though we’ve partnered with dozens of communities to build and grow quality dual language immersion programs, we still liken the effort to a moonshot.

Yes, this is a major challenge.

But, as our 20 partner schools have discovered…it’s totally worth it. And with the right support team beside you, success in dual language immersion education is possible.

Rebecca GomezThat’s why we’re excited to share with you some of the insights Rebecca Gomez has gleaned along the immersion journey. Maestra Gomez serves as the Spanish immersion point person at Pella Christian Grade School (and currently as a teacher), and has been with the program since its inception.

While Pella Christian Grade School is currently our only partner program in Iowa, their success is generating lots of interest. Here’s what Rebecca shared about her experience:

1. Why did Pella Christian Grade School decide to implement an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program?

As a Christian school, we decided to implement a dual language immersion program because we felt that it definitely would help us fulfill our mission statement which states, “Proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all spheres of life and learning, Pella Christian Grade School, together with the parents, provides excellent academic training rooted in God’s infallible Word, challenging students to develop their individual God-given gifts for a life of service in God’s kingdom.”

First of all, we believe that learning another language is part of excellent academic training and knowing that on average students of immersion programs perform as well as, if not better academically than, their English track peers and that they can reach high levels of second language proficiency in a well-implemented program, we decided that an immersion program would help us to fulfill the part of our mission statement which says, “provides excellent academic training.”

We also knew that in our community there were parents who desire a second language for their children and providing this option would help us to partner with parents (“together with parents”).

Finally, we decided that speaking a second language and knowing the cultures that speak it would definitely prepare our students “for a life of service in God’s kingdom,” a kingdom that includes the whole world and a world in which there are many Spanish speakers.

Although we usually think toward the future about this life of service, we’ve found that some of our students have already found a way to serve their neighbor by helping Hispanic people who are in need of translators at stores, garage sales, etc.  It’s a beautiful thing to hear these stories!

Besides helping us to fulfill our mission statement, we also considered the fact that bilingualism promotes brain development when students reach high levels of second language proficiency and we wanted to encourage that brain development in our students.

Another reason we implemented Spanish immersion was to attract more people to our school.  The closest other school to offer an immersion education is 50 minutes away.  We hoped that some parents would enroll their students in Pella Christian specifically for the immersion program and then see what a great thing Christian education is and become convinced that it was a great option for their children, immersion track or English track.

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This has been the case as a few families who have older kids in the community school system enrolled their students in our immersion program and then transferred their older children into the English track because they decided they wanted a Christian education for them as well.  It has also been an opportunity for those members of our community who are “not religious”, but who are open to their children learning about Christianity.

2. What have been some of the positive outcomes for students and families of implementing an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program?

  • Students view themselves as bilingual and are willing to step out of their comfort zones because they have had to do that as they practice their second language.
  • A greater diversity within our teaching staff.  We now have teachers from México, El Salvador, and Paraguay and one new hire from the Dominican Republic.  This has changed the face of our school; it is now a more open place and the community perceives that.  We have had people who have enrolled their children in the English track, but say that they chose PCGS because it must be an excepting, open place if it has an immersion program.  It also allows students to interact with people “different” than themselves and learn to love them, which makes them more aware of other peoples and cultures, and also more open to them.
  • Students with Spanish language skills have had opportunities to serve people in need of language help now.  Parents are so proud of them when they do this.
  • On average, our immersion students are doing as well or better than their monolingual peers on standardized assessments given in English.  We recently did a comparison of our immersion students and their English track peers at Pella Christian on the Iowa Assessment and they are doing great!  We now have our own data to prove that not only are we giving them a great education, we are also giving them a second language.
  • Our students’ worldview has changed because of the influence of their teachers, but also because languages can shape one’s view of the world and having two languages gives them another perspective.

3. What were some of the initial concerns that your community expressed when you were exploring adding an add.a.lingua dual language immersion program?

Some of the main concerns were:

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Pella Christian Grade School first grade teacher, Rogelio Gomez, was the recipient of Leighton State Bank‘s Extraordinary Teacher of the Year Award.

  • Discord would occur amongst Spanish immersion staff and English track staff.  This has not happened at all; in fact some of the English track teachers most against implementing an immersion program were quickly won over by the warmth and work ethic of our immersion staff.
  • That it was impossible for students to learn all their grade-level content and a second language at the same time.  This fear has also not played out; as I stated before we now have our own data to show that they are learning at the same pace as their English track peers.
  • There was also a concern about staffing.  This has definitely not been easy, but we are grateful that every year the Lord has provided a new teacher for us.  Some of the difficulty has come in getting our international hires their visa before the start of the school year.
  • Another concern was that this would change our school.  That has happened, but people now acknowledge that the change has been positive.  At one of the first meetings about implementation, we had a grad from PCGS start crying at the meeting as she said that she wanted her children to have the same education as she did.  She now has her son in our immersion program and is one of our biggest supporters!

4. Looking back, what do you believe is most critical for school leaders to know when considering an add.a.lingua dual immersion program?

I believe it’s critical to think about the dual language immersion program as a Pre-K through 12th-grade program.  It’s true that students appear to be fluent by the end of 5th grade, but they still talk like a 5th grader.

The program needs to be implemented as a 50-50 model through middle school and high school so that the students’ language development grows along with their cognitive development. This means a minimun of three content areas taught in Spanish. My language goal for our students is that they can access all grade-level content areas through both their first and second languages and that upon graduating from high school they have the option of going to the university in English or abroad in Spanish.  I’m not sure that many will take that option, but I want their language to be that good!

I think it’s also critical to know that hiring is difficult and that to provide a quality immersion program, a school cannot hire teachers who are not proficient in the immersion language.  At Pella Christian Grade School, we have really preferred to hire native Spanish speakers and our students’ language levels reflect this.

Finally, I would encourage anyone exploring dual language immersion education to connect with add.a.lingua. Because of add.a.lingua, our team is provided with:

  • professional development which helps our teachers implement with fidelity
  • language frameworks which give us vocabulary, grammatical structures, word features, mentor texts, etc. on which to focus each week
  • support by email, phone, and virtual visits

I cannot say enough good things about add.a.lingua, and would encourage reaching out to them as your first step.

Our big thanks to Rebecca for this interview, and to the entire team at Pella Christian Grade School for all they do on behalf of their students and community.

If you’d like to learn more about how add.a.lingua partners with school communities to successfully launch dual language immersion programs, just leave us a note and we’ll be in touch.