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District Starts Maine’s First Spanish Immersion Program

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District Starts Maine’s First Spanish Immersion Program
Posted on 09/10/2014

The Portland Public Schools is launching Maine’s first public full immersion program in Spanish this fall.  The district has hired Susana Balasch, a teacher from Pamplona, Spain, to teach the program based at Lyseth Elementary School.  

The program will begin with a kindergarten class.  Students will be taught a regular elementary curriculum in Spanish; music, art and physical education will be taught in English.

One grade will be added to the program in each subsequent year as students progress through elementary school.  The amount of instruction in English will increase over time to ensure that students can speak, read and write in both English and Spanish.

“We want our students to graduate proficient in a world language so that they are at a competitive advantage when they enter the workplace,” said Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk.  “This program will help make that happen.   Students who master a second language benefit in other ways, too.  They tend to be more flexible in their thinking and deft at solving problems.”

Balasch has 11 years of teaching experience and she has worked in an elementary immersion program in Spain.  She earned a master’s in teaching Spanish as a second language.  Balasch uses theater and other hands-on activities in her teaching.

Balasch was hired through Spain’s Visiting Teacher Program, part of an agreement between the government of Spain and the state of Maine where teachers can come here and teach for up to three years.  She is moving to the area with her husband and two young children.  

“I have never been in Portland before,” she said, “but I think that it could be a good destination for me and my family.”

“Lyseth Elementary School is very excited to offer this groundbreaking program,” said Lyseth Principal Lenore Williams.  “All of our students will benefit from hearing Spanish spoken every day in various school settings.”

Immersion programs are the fastest growing and most effective type of foreign language program in the country.  More than three decades of studies consistently show that students in immersion programs achieve as well as or better than non-immersion peers on standardized measures of verbal and mathematics skills administered in English.