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Hall County to start pre-K Spanish, Chinese programs
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Four-year-olds will be able to learn Spanish and Mandarin Chinese at Hall County elementary schools this fall.

The state’s Bright from the Start early education program granted Hall County schools $328,000 last week to fund four pre-kindergarten language immersion programs.

The pre-K programs will take off at Chicopee Woods, Martin and Sardis elementary schools and at the World Language Academy.

The 80 pre-kindergartners who enrolled in the program in April will learn their letters, colors, shapes and numbers while teachers alternate between Spanish and English. Students at the World Language Academy also will learn Mandarin Chinese for about an hour of the school day.

Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield said outside the academy’s Mandarin class, children will receive 90 percent of instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English.

“We’re just excited that it continues to push multilingual on even younger children,” Schofield said. “It’s an extension of the fact that in Hall County we believe that for families that choose to do so, acquisition of languages other than English is a very important 21st century skill, and it marries with the fact that the younger you start with children, the better you are.”

Last school year, the World Language Academy began offering multilingual classes to kindergarten and elementary school students.

Carrie Woodcock, dual language coordinator for the World Language Academy and Hall County schools, said the program comes in response to parents clamoring for more programs like the World Language Academy. She said there’s already a waiting list to get into the pre-K language programs.

Woodcock said dual immersion programs aim to promote development of literacy in Spanish and English as students develop multicultural competencies and an understanding of their home culture, the culture of the second language, and diversity, traditions, norms and beliefs of others so they will be prepared “to soar in a global society.”

“We want to offer children at the earliest stage of their academic development exposure to other languages and other cultures, much as is done in other lands,” Woodcock said. “We just feel like the earlier the better. Children are capable of learning many languages at the same time, and we want to provide our children the opportunities other countries do. We want to be progressive.”

But how do you teach a 4-year-old Mandarin Chinese as they’re learning Spanish and English?

“You just actually speak to them in Chinese or whatever the target language is,” she said. “Just like mothers teach their children; they don’t hold up a pencil and say ‘Look, it’s a pencil.’ They just say, ‘I have a pencil. Look, I’m working with a pencil.’ They’ll be immersing the children in the culture.”

As for tedious translations, Woodcock said there will be none of that.

“When the teachers are teaching, they’ll speak to children in specific languages at specific times so the children will know it’s time to work in this language or it’s time to work in that language,” Woodcock said. “There will be no translating as they go.”

She said some parents expressed concerns about their pre-kindergartners lacking English skills if so much time was dedicated to Spanish during the school day.

But a well-developed native oral language correlates to higher reading achievement in both the native language and the second language, Woodcock said. As a result, she said, development in both languages should be cultivated at an early age in both social and academic contexts to provide the foundation for biliteracy.

Children by default are exposed to more English than Spanish here, Woodock said, so native English speakers will automatically roll into Spanish when they come to the classroom but speak English the rest of the day.

Shae Kim has a son who just finished kindergarten at the World Language Academy and will start first grade there in August. She also has twin daughters who will start school at the academy’s language immersion pre-kindergarten program.

Kim said her son has excelled at the academy and she is glad other parents will have the opportunity to see their children flourish in a diverse language setting.

“I feel like he learned a tremendous amount of language and is doing well with his English,” she said. “I mean, he’s reading and about to start first grade.”

Kim said her children’s father is an international businessman and as parents, they took the decision to send their kids to a multilingual school very seriously. She said the multilingual and multicultural program shows children people’s differences and celebrates foreign cultures’ holidays and art forms.

“The world is changing and the U.S. is becoming more and more bilingual,” Kim said. “... It’s good to open their minds to a different way of thinking. I think that in itself is a huge learning thing most children aren’t introduced to.”