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Richland One’s Middle School Language Immersion Program Aims for Students to Become Bilingual by High School

Hand Middle School sixth-grader Ja’Mariya KnapperHand Middle School sixth-grader Ja’Mariya Knapper has been learning Spanish since she was in first grade, when she joined the Richland One Language Immersion Program at Carver-Lyon Elementary School.

“At a very young age, I wanted to learn another language,” Ja’Mariya said. “That’s why I chose to learn Spanish and become part of the program.”

The district’s language immersion program began in August 2016 at Carver-Lyon. A grade was added each year and, at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, the program expanded to the middle school level. Ja’Mariya is one of 27 students in the middle school language immersion program at Hand.

“We felt this program was a great opportunity for her to learn Spanish at a young age,” said Ja’Mariya’s mother, Lacreshia Knapper. “When I found out the program was expanding to middle school, I was thrilled about this. My husband and I knew this was something we wanted our daughter to continue. Ja’Mariya enjoys this program and speaking Spanish.”

Students enrolled in the middle school program are taught in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese for 90 minutes each day. There are also afterschool classes where students have more opportunities to become proficient in the language they choose. Seventeen students are learning Spanish, while 10 are learning Chinese. Right now, the program is only for students in sixth grade.

Erika Barboza, the lead teacher for the middle school language immersion program, says there’s a big difference between the language immersion program and a foreign language class. She says students in language immersion are able to get to an advanced or superior level of proficiency by high school.

“By middle school, students in the elementary language immersion program are going to be at an intermediate level of proficiency. You don’t normally get to that level in a foreign language class,” said Barboza.

Ja’Mariya’s brother, Jordan, a junior at A.C. Flora High School, started taking foreign language classes in middle school.

“Jordan knows a lot of Spanish, but Ja’Mariya is much more fluent than he is,” Mrs. Knapper said. “That’s because Ja’Mariya started learning Spanish at a younger age.”

Barboza says one of the goals of the program is for students to become bilingual by high school and to appreciate other cultures.

“When students have an understanding of other languages, they feel better equipped to work with people from other cultures. This can open up opportunities for students to receive higher-paying jobs and be leaders in companies that go abroad,” she said.

Ja’Mariya, an aspiring brain surgeon, encourages students who were part of the elementary language immersion program to move on to the middle school program.

“It’s awesome to be in a program where you’re able to become bilingual,” she said.

Richland One is accepting magnet program applications for the 2023-2024 school year. Language immersion and other magnet programs are open to all Richland One students. The application deadline is January 31. For information about all of the district’s magnet programs and to apply, click here.