Language immersion schools expand in St. Louis

Monday, October 8, 2012 | 4:08 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — More St. Louis students are studying in language immersion schools, learning math and art not in English, but Chinese, Spanish or French.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools started offering Chinese this academic year and that enrollment for French and Spanish programs have doubled from two years ago to 800 students. The programs are offered at a public charter school in St. Louis, are tuition-free and have a waiting list.

Supporters contend the programs help improve students' social awareness, academic performance and problem-solving abilities. Students first learn to read and write in the language, and after 18 months, they are expected to communicate entirely in that language.

Students at the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools took state tests in math and communication arts for first time this year. Of the 44 third-graders, one-fourth passed in communication arts and just over one-third passed in math. That is higher than the average for St. Louis Public Schools but below state averages.

School officials say immersion school students are expected to catch up by fifth grade. English is not taught until the second semester of second grade. Therefore, math is taught in Chinese, Spanish or French, but the state tests are presented in English.

In its first year, the Chinese school only has kindergarten and first grade, but intends to add more grades.

Rhonda Broussard, the founder of the immersion school, said she hopes to have 4,800 students from kindergarten through high school by 2024.

Parents say it's difficult to decide whether to enroll children in an immersion school. They acknowledge reservations about the effects of sending their children to a school where lessons are not taught in English.

"I had some concerns about reading and math if children are not learning any English," said Carmen Hornberger, whose five-year-old son attends the Chinese school. "You have to ask yourself, 'What path do I really want him to be on?'"

Now, Hornberger said, her son counts and identifies colors in Chinese. He also corrects her when she repeats what he is saying.

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