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Immersion Education


What is an immersion program?

  • Students learn their core curriculum in the non-English (i.e. Spanish) language. They study the same content as their peers in the non-immersion program but are “immersed” in the target language learning to read, speak, and write naturally and gradually in that target language.
  • Students typically begin their English language arts curriculum in the 2nd grade for 30 minutes a day.
  • Teachers are native or near-native speakers of the target language.
  • Students enter the Immersion program in either pre-school or kindergarten.
  • Students continue in the Immersion program until 6th grade typically. Maintenance programs are then offered in middle school and high school.
  • Immersion programming has been in the United States for decades. Right now, over 300 schools in the United States offer immersion programming.

Why immersion?

“The future is here. It’s multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual.”

V. Stewart. Becoming Citizens of
the World. Ed.Leadership, Pg. 8

An immersion program is a unique experience that benefits students’:
  • Overall Academic Achievement
    • Research has overwhelmingly proven that students in immersion programs have:
      • Gained a higher level of achievement in most other subjects by the time they get to the 5th grade. (Swain & Lapkin, 1982)
      • Scored considerably higher on math and reading on standardized tests. (Armstrong, Learning Languages)
      • Demonstrated better scores on the ACT and SAT. (Cooper, Modern Language Journal)
  • Level of Proficiency in the Target Language and their First Language
    • Research and testing have shown that students
      • Are less inhibited and more likely to use the language. They are able to pick up the accent more accurately. (Stewart, Early Childhood Education Journal.)
      • Have tested into the advanced-low level of the ACTFL proficiency guidelines after the 4th grade. (Ada Vista Immersion School test results per Lilah Ambrosi, former principal.) *advanced-low is the typical benchmark for non-native language teachers
      • Have demonstrated higher reading levels in their first language. (D’ Anguilli, Siegel & Sierra, Applied Psycholinguistics)
  • Future opportunities
    • Research has proven that students with a high level of proficiency in a second language have “advanced in the job market, enjoyed traveling, felt less isolated, been able to work in international markets…” (Weatherford, ERIC Digest)
    • “There isn’t a job that doesn’t call for some computer skills. Almost every industry today is diversifying linguistically…Bridging a cultural gap as well as a linguistic gap makes an individual more employable...(who) can earn from 5 to 20 percent more income than someone who speaks only English.” (E. Alba-Suh, Why Being Bilingual Can Get You the Job. Extra News)

Opportunity & Enablement

Most importantly, an immersion program is another opportunity that enables students to:
  • Serve Others Humbly in the Name of Jesus.
    • Learning another’s language is touching the essence of their identity (F. Smith, The Book of Learning and Forgetting, 17). It is learning their culture. (D. Livermore, Cultural Intelligence, 113).
    • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
    • “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:35-40
    • “…I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews." I Corinthians 9:19-23
  • Experience and Absorb Diversity and Other Cultures
    • Students not only learn the cultural artifacts like food, holidays, and customs but also learn to appreciate and respect differences by being in a multicultural environment.
    • Students learn to respect diversity since that is what their teachers, their role models, represent. The idea of diversity doesn’t become an object to be learned or studied. Rather it permeates every content area.
    • “Learn from those who are of other cultures; God may be at work in them in ways that you desperately need.” ( Reflection of the Parable of the Samaritan) (D. Smith. Learning from the Stranger, 76)
  • Engage in Global Conversations 
    • Not only allows for the transformation of others but also the continual transformation of themselves.
    • “At the heart of intercultural learning is learning how to hear…Loving the stranger is not about putting up with the inferior ways of others; it involves realizing that I am a stranger too.” (D. Smith, Learning from the Stranger, 120-121)

“Language and communication are at the heart of the human experience. The United States must educate students who are equipped linguistically and culturally to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society and abroad. This imperative envisions a future in which ALL students will develop and maintain proficiency in English and at least one other language.”

(National Standard in Foreign Language Education Project 1999, p.7)


Why is it important to offer Immersion education?

  • Students attain native-like fluency by early ages
  • Students not only learn about diversity, but they really become diverse.
  • Students are taught by diverse teachers. Students naturally learn to respect and look up to someone from different culture.
  • Recent MEAP scores (from Ada Vista) show that students are meeting/exceeding state standards.
  • Brings more diversity to our school.
  • Emphasizes the ethic of hospitality.
  • Teaching children about a different language and culture is in line with our mission statement: To prepare students to effective servants of our Lord Jesus Christ in a society that is shifting constantly with the times.

Will learning two languages confuse a child or slow academic progress?

There is no evidence to indicate that learning in two languages will confuse or slow a student’s rate of progress.  There is, however, significant research to indicate that learning two languages can enhance academic growth. In addition, learning two languages will not complicate behavior problems or learning disabilities.  There is no research to indicate that children in other parts of the world where it is commonplace to learn two or three languages have more of these problems than American children.

Why is it better for my child to learn a language in elementary school?

Studies have shown, and experience has supported, that children who learn a language before the onset of adolescence are more likely to have native-like pronunciation. A number of experts attribute this proficiency to physiological change that occurs in the maturing brain as a child enters puberty. Of course, as with any subject, the more years a child can devote to learning a language, the more competent he or she will become. Regardless, introducing children to alternative ways of expressing themselves and to different cultures generally broadens their outlook and gives them the opportunity to communicate with many more people.

Will the students learn the same things as the students in the regular English program?

Students in Spanish Immersion classrooms will receive the same curriculum as students in English speaking classes. There is ongoing work by the staff to look into purchasing the same curriculum but in Spanish where possible and to purchase similar curriculum with the same benchmarks and goals where it is not possible to purchase the exact same curriculum. In addition to providing the same curriculum to all GRCS students the Spanish Immersion teachers and the grade level mentors are working together to make sure the curriculum is delivered uniformly to all GRCS students. 

What is the role of native speakers in the Grand Rapids Christian Schools immersion program?

Grand Rapids Christian Schools understands the value of providing native speakers as models for immersion students. We will encourage native speakers that are highly qualified teachers and/or aides to apply for jobs. It is important to remember that the policies and priorities for hiring are the same for Immersion teachers as they are for English speaking teachers. Grand Rapids Christian Schools adheres to fluency levels for immersion teachers as outlined by the state.

Is any English used in the Spanish classroom?

The goal of this program is full immersion in Spanish but—at the teacher’s discretion—the teacher may use English to ensure the emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of a student or the group.

How will the immersion students interact with the traditional classroom students?

It is a priority to purposely bring the Spanish and English students together. We worship together, go on field trips together, do buddy activities together, do lunch and recesses together and do cross language teaching and sharing. We want parents to know this is a priority in all grades and that opportunities to connect kids in these ways increase as students get older.

What if no one at home speaks Spanish?

The immersion program is designed for English-only and non-Spanish speaking households!

What about the first days in an immersion model?

For students beginning school in early immersion programs, the teacher begins to use the second language when possible during the first two weeks, but also uses English when needed during this time period to teach rules and expectations. Within the first two weeks, children master routines and the teacher switches to Spanish from that point on. The children are made to feel secure right from the start and they do not focus on the fact that the teacher is not speaking English.

How will learning everything in a second language affect my child's English language and literacy development?

Many parents are initially fearful that immersion may have a negative impact on their child's English language development. But research consistently has demonstrated that the immersion experience actually enhances English language development. It should be noted that full immersion students' English development may lag temporarily in reading, word knowledge, and spelling while instruction is occurring exclusively in the immersion language. However, after a year or two of instruction in English language arts, this discrepancy disappears.

It is important for parents to understand that this lag is temporary and to be expected. Immersion students need consistent exposure to, and support for, English at home. Parents need to provide their children with experiences that will enhance their English language and literacy development. For example, they should read to their children every day and involve them in games and activities that complement their classroom learning.

Research shows that the stronger the development of the native language, the greater the proficiency in the immersion language, so children who enter an immersion program with a strong base in English will succeed more easily than those whose English skills are not as strong.

Beginning in the second semester of second grade, English is studied for about 30 minutes a day. As the student progresses through school the time spent studying English gradually increases with each grade level. By the time immersion students reach 5th grade, the general conclusions of studies show that students enrolled in immersion programs perform as well or better than students in non-immersion programs on English achievement tests.

Is it harder for a child to acquire two languages at once?

There is no evidence to suggest this. A child doesn’t have to be exceptional to become bilingual; as long as the child is exposed to two languages throughout early childhood, he or she will acquire them both. Additional activities at home are not required for a child to successfully learn a second language. We can, however, advise you in this regard if you wish to enhance your child’s language acquisition and experiences at home.

Is transportation provided?

Students enrolled in Spanish Immersion are provided the same level of transportation that students enrolled in English speaking classrooms receive.  Please note that transportation is not provided for preschool students at Grand Rapids Christian Schools.

How can I learn more about the Spanish Immersion Program?

An Open House is held in January. If you need information outside of this time frame, and would like to schedule a time to tour the school and learn more about the Spanish Immersion Program, please contact:

Michelle Ogdahl

Preschool - 4th


Sara Seth

Spanish Immersion Coordinator

How do I enroll my child?

For parents who would like to provide their child with the opportunity to become functionally proficient in both English and Spanish during their elementary years, immersion is a viable educational option.

If you are interested in enrolling your child in Spanish Immersion, contact Michelle Ogdahl, Director of Admissions at Grand Rapids Christian Elementary School - Iroquois Campus, at 616-574-6565 or



Sara Seth, Spanish Immersion Coordinator

Michelle Ogdahl, Director of Admissions (Preschool - 4th)

Linda Vellenga, Director of Admissions (5th - 8th)


1050 Iroquois Drive SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Phone: 616.574.6500
Fax:  616.574.6510