LEXINGTON, N.C. — It is an experiment that ended in great success.
Southwood Elementary School in Lexington has Davidson County's first Spanish Immersion program.
It has been very successful so far. It started in the 2016-2017 school year with a Kindergarten class. Each year since then it has added one more class as the students moved up.
Teachers for the program come from different Spanish-speaking countries through a company called Participate Learning.
For them, its an opportunity to teach in and learn about a different country.
Kindergarten teacher Angellica Yepes started at Southwood with the first class. She says she has learned so much while in Davidson County.
"I'm all about languages," she said. "I love languages, and I love to see how the kids will start from saying nothing to you and then at this point of the year they are trying to talk to you in Spanish. In a foreign language."
Yepes has seen the children progress and learn to speak her native tongue.
"It's very amazing to see the third graders. They understand every word you say," she said. "They say it back to you with our accents, with our words. With everything. Or the second graders, or the first graders. It's pretty amazing to see how they are evolving through the years. I'm really proud of them."
At Southwood, the students are fluent by the end of their second-grade year, which is earlier than other Participate programs.
The students are held to the same North Carolina standards as other classes. Principal Ashley Lemley is proud of that.
"In second grade, we do start teaching them English because obviously we want them to read in both languages. However, once a student learns to read in Spanish, its very easy for them to learn to read in English because reading skills are reading skills. Reading foundations are reading foundations. We go back and teach them the vowels in Spanish and English because there are marked differences that they need to learn, but as soon as they pick up on those, they can read in both languages, and you'll even hear them converse sometimes using both Spanish and English merged together," she said.
While the program isn't for everyone, it is very beneficial for those who do participate.
"You hear so much about having students 'globally ready,'" said Lemley. "I can't think of a way to have them more globally ready than to be teaching them about the culture of other countries all along their elementary career as well as having them fluent in another language."
Currently, the program runs Kindergarten through third grade. In the next two years, it will be expanded to fourth and fifth grades.