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District’s Language Immersion Program Marks Five-Year Milestone, May Expand to Middle School


Five years ago, the inaugural class of students enrolled in Richland One’s Language Immersion Program at Carver-Lyon Elementary School.

The program began in August 2016, offering Spanish and Chinese to pre-K and kindergarteners. Those initial 31 students have progressed in the program each year and are fifth-graders now. The district is exploring expanding the program to the middle school level.

Sharlene Kennedy, Carver-Lyon Elementary School parent teacher organization (PTO) president, said she is eager for the district to decide concerning the expansion because the program has been most beneficial to her fifth-grader and inaugural student Geordyn Duckett.

“She loves it, and she can speak it,” said Kennedy. “I feel like if she can learn another language in her younger years, that’s something that she can use when she gets older.”

This year, there are 317 pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students in the program, which added French during the 2020-2021 school year. Students are taught in English for half of the instructional day and in one of the other languages for the other half of the day. The program has attracted teachers from 12 different countries, further enhancing the experience, according to Erika Barboza-Ayala, Richland One’s language immersion lead teacher.

“The community sees the diversity of our school as a plus, and they appreciate their students learning languages from native speakers,” she said.

Students in the language immersion program have an understanding of culture that extends beyond just language. It’s as if the students arrive in worlds all their own each day based on their language of choice – Chinese, French or Spanish. One hall is dedicated to those who aspire to speak Chinese, one is for those who desire to speak French and another is for those learning Spanish. The walls are adorned with cultural themes of countries where the languages are spoken including the national flags and maps.

Barboza-Ayala said she hopes the students retain what they’ve learned for their daily lives.

“I want the students to use the language to get familiar with the concept and communicate it to other people not in the program,” she said. “Students experience learning content subjects as well as social language and literacy skills in a foreign language, which means that it becomes a tool for students to communicate, learn and have fun.”

The 31 students who were in the inaugural class are bilingual, biliterate and bicultural, learning to read, write, speak and understand two languages, and gain an appreciation for other cultures, said Barboza-Ayala. In an ever-increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, she said students who experience language immersion are better prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy.

“It also opens the door to understanding other cultures, and it has the potential to make communication more meaningful and rich and improve academic performance,” said Barboza-Ayala. “By choosing language immersion, you will be giving your student more tools to succeed in the future.”

Families must attend a mandatory information session to apply to enroll children in the Language Immersion Program. To view the schedule of parent information sessions, contact Carver-Lyon Elementary School at (803) 343-2900 or email Barboza-Ayala at for details.

Pictured: Language Immersion Lead Teacher Erika Barboza-Ayala, and Ana Lucia Mejia Cervantes, a second grader at Carver-Lyon Elementary School