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Language Immersion Program Touts Success in Open House

SACRAMENTO -- For some Sacramento first-graders, Spanish isn't just a class -- it's the language of almost all of their classes.

"Ninety percent of the instructional time is in Spanish," Spanish Immersion Program Director Gerardo Guzman said.

The percentage of class time in English increases as the students move through elementary school.

Still, when Clarissa Alva first heard of the Spanish Immersion program at the Thomas Edison Language Institute, she had reservations.

"How am I supposed to help my student? How am I supposed to make sure they're learning what they're supposed to be learning?" she said. "Are they going to be OK learning English if most of their day is taught in Spanish?"

But she now has three kids in the program and it's not only mom who's raving about it.

"I like how I can have different kinds of friends. Like I have friends whose families speak English and friends whose families speak Spanish," Alva's son Julius said.

Julius admits he was starting to lose interest in learning Spanish until a family trip to rural Costa Rica. Alva and her husband don't speak Spanish so it was up to the kids to navigate.

Having seen the doors bilingual ability can open up for him, Julius is now proudly one of about 340 participants in San Juan School District's only language immersion program.

Tuesday, they celebrated their accomplishments with an open house for prospective parents. The goal is to have the program made up of half English speakers and half non-English speakers, so the students can learn from each other.

"It's inspiring to see this. To see all the beautiful brown and black children and white kids speaking Spanish," State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Commerce, said.

Lara, who was invited to the event because of his support of bilingual education, says he wants to see more of these programs offering more languages.

"California doesn't compete with other states, we're competing with other countries," Lara said. "And we see that those countries are graduating children, even at the sixth-grade level, learning multiple languages. California needs to catch up."