Students in a kindergarten Spanish immersion class at Robert Frost Elementary School listen to Señora Yenny Ruiz read in Spanish on Monday. / Melissa Sue Gerrits / Argus Leader

Students in a kindergarten Spanish immersion class at Robert Frost Elementary School listen to Señora Yenny Ruiz read in Spanish on Monday. / Melissa Sue Gerrits / Argus Leader

Spanish immersion, English classes bridge differences in cultures

Four miles from Rosa Parks Elementary, where Sioux Falls first ventured into Spanish immersion instruction four years ago, two new classes of immersion kindergartners used M&Ms to learn los colores Monday at Robert Frost Elementary.

The school board addressed strong parent interest in the program by expanding it to a second school this year.

Anne Mathiesen said Spanish immersion had only one seat open when she signed up Chloe three-and-a-half years ago, when her daughter was 18 months old. A friend suggested doing so, and Mathiesen found Spanish was the world’s third most commonly spoken language.

“I thought, my goodness, why wouldn’t I?” she said. “I feel like I’m only benefiting her future.”

Leading her class Monday was Yenny Ruiz, a Colombia native who for the past five years had been at a Virginia school teaching 15-minute daily Spanish lessons to several classes of English-speaking youngsters.

“It’s much better to have your own class,” she said at the end of her first day at Robert Frost.

Although some parents say Spanish immersion should reside in a single building – the school board plans to decide on a long-term plan for the program later this year – Ruiz said she’s comfortable as only one of two immersion teachers at her building.

“We have all their support,” she said of the Rosa Parks teachers. “They have provided us with lots of materials. We have been planning together, so we work as a team.”

The school district hired 160 new teachers for the 2012-13 school year, about half of whom are in their first teaching jobs out of college.

Early shift popular at MCA

Downtown on Monday at the Multi-Cultural Center, about 45 high school students opened a new program called the Multicultural Academy. Ombudsman, a company from Nashville, Tenn., hired by the school district, aims to use self-paced, computer-based lessons to get immigrant and refugee students to graduate before they turn 21.

About two-thirds of the students were enrolled for part of last year at one of the district’s traditional high schools, program director Marcia Gaudet said. Had they stayed, they probably would not have earned enough credits to graduate before they “age-out” of public school.

Gaudet rode a city bus to school at 5:30 a.m. Monday to see from a student’s perspective how each day will begin. She said the 6:45 a.m. shift is far more popular than the one starting at 10:45 a.m. because it leaves students with the rest of the day for work.

Gaudet was encouraged by the program’s first day.

“We’ve got students who want to be nurses, doctors, engineers,” she said. “We’ve got one who wants to be a math teacher.”

New school standards for instruction in English

Throughout the school district, teachers and students are moving to a new set of standards for English Language Arts instruction.

Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core Standards in English and math, which should raise expectations for what all students do and know. Sioux Falls this year is implementing Common Core in English for all grades and in math for grades K-2; the rest of the grades will follow suit next school year.

The new English standards mean students will read more informational material, such as historical documents and scientific journals, and less literature. Writing will emphasize building an argument with supporting evidence rather than persuasion.

The new math standards require higher-order thinking and introduce some concepts at an earlier grade level. Stacy Stefani, one of the district’s math instructional coaches, said Common Core forces students to understand what they’re learning, not just memorize it.

“This is a huge shift,” she said during a school board work session this summer.

“Our world is changing; it’s getting more complex,” said Nicol Reiner, another math instructional coach.