With Denver Public Schools’ officially opening its SchoolChoice enrollment process, we’re excited to highlight school options that offer families a different approach to serving students’ unique needs. The following feature on the Denver Language School’s language immersion model was originally published by Jamison White on the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools blog.
Diversity works. A plethora of cultures, languages, and beliefs culminate in American society, which embraces the uniqueness of all its people as its strength. America learns and grows from the families whose unique racial, cultural, and linguistic experiences stich this great nation together. The Denver Language School (DLS) in Colorado epitomizes this quest for a diverse society. As an independent public charter school in the Denver area, DLS strives to offer parents a genuine choice in K-8 education.
DSL uses an educational model known as “language immersion”. Essentially, students take all their core academic classes in their target language of either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese from kindergarten to second grade to fully immerse themselves in the language. In third grade, teachers introduce English while maintaining at least 80% of the instruction in their target language. Starting in sixth grade, half of the total instruction is in the student’s target language. This powerful and unique educational model nurtures students into learning two or more languages from a young age, helping them develop exceptional cognitive and sociocultural skills. Students learn in an environment where teachers value academics and language education equally. The strong emphasis on sharing and learning different cultures and experiences cultivates empathy and gives graduates an edge in our increasingly globalized world. Students learn from each other and recognize the power that diversity, in all its forms, can unleash.
Ben Lindquist, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, visited DLS and shared his thoughts with me:
“The Denver Language School is a dual immersion school offering students an immersive experience in either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. Most teachers are either from Spanish-speaking nations throughout the Americas or from mainland China and Taiwan, so students are receiving an authentic cultural, social AND educational experience. The student population is remarkably diverse. During my visit, Camilla Modesitt, a co-founder and the development director, emphasized the cognitive benefits of learning a second language at an early age. Students develop in unique ways socially and emotionally because they are learning body language, visual cues and social etiquette as they learn to speak, read and write in English plus Mandarin or Spanish with native-like fluency by 8th grade. The school is building an impressive track record of student achievement, and was just approved to relocate its middle school into a district-owned facility.”
Following their launch in 2010, parents flocked to DLS and the school’s academic success provides strong support for the model they follow. Parents consistently rank DLS in the top 10 of the 92 elementary schools in Denver. This comes as no surprise given that, last year DLS ranked in the top 10 middle schools for math, science, and English in the Denver public school district. Remarkably, they offered AP exams to their 8th graders, and 100% of those that took the Spanish or Mandarin Chinese AP exam passed. When I asked Camilla Modesitt, founder and development director of DLS, why this model proved so successful, she wrote:
“Learning two or more languages from a young age develops greater critical thinking, problem-solving, vocabulary, and listening skills. In addition, the remarkable task of language learning teaches children that progress requires focused effort and perseverance. This gives them the confidence to take healthy risks.”
Some parents fear the language immersion models lead to English deficiencies. However, DLS repeatedly dispelled these concerns with outstanding English scores on the state tests. In 2017, DLS students ranked #1 in the Denver public schools district on both math and reading at the 3rd grade level. By 6th grade, DLS’s average percentile for students meeting or exceeding English expectations nearly doubled that of the district average. Stunningly these students improved on last year’s strong showing by 7 percent in English and 14 percent in math.
Their impressive performance highlights just how diverse schools help students find success. Engaged students excited to learn, explore, the world around them. They invest in global citizenship and understand how a second language provides them with the opportunity and the ability to better understand themselves and others. Schools of choice, like DLS, lead to diversity of thought through specialized curriculum that offers students unique perspectives and knowledge from which to draw upon. These perspectives and diverse philosophies lead to creativity, innovation, and help bring a myriad of clever ideas to the global economy. Policy makers increasingly recognize that not all students learn the same way, or possess the same academic interests. Schools that offer specialized programs capture students in a way that makes students want to attend class. The “one-size-fits-all” approach leaves millions of students behind each year, and all students deserve better choices. Every child deserves a chance to learn in an environment that inspires them. Every child deserves an environment best suited to their personality and their interest, and every child deserves a chance to succeed. Incredible schools like DLS, not only push the limits of what schools accomplish, but they offer indisputable options for parents looking to alternatives for their children. Their mission to achieve academic excellence and intercultural competence through language immersion education propels them to success. In short, diversity works.
For more information on the Denver Language School please visit: http://www.denverlanguageschool.org
Photo credit: Denver Language School