Spotlight on youth: First and only of its kind, a French Immersion Program gets kids very excited

Kindergartners spend half their day learning a new language at O'Malley Elementary's first and...
Kindergartners spend half their day learning a new language at O'Malley Elementary's first and only French Immersion Program. (KTUU)
Published: Sep. 4, 2019 at 8:26 AM AKDT
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Learning a new language isn't easy, but take it from a classroom of kindergartners who will have très bon skills by the time they graduate.

Smiling, laughing and happy, just a few days into the new school year, students at O'Malley Elementary looked like they were having a pretty good time.

But, for 52 students, it's not your typical kindergarten class. They're all part of the school's first and only French Immersion Program. Half of their day is spent learning in English, but across the hall, the other half is spent learning in French. A key part of an immersion program is a clear separation of language, meaning there's no English spoken.

Immersion programs are not new to the Anchorage School District. In fact, the very first one, which was Japanese started in 1989.

"We've added Spanish and German and Russian and Chinese and Yupik and there's long been an interest to have a French program as well," said Brandon Locke, Director for World Languages and Immersion Programs for the Anchorage School District.

O'Malley Elementary's French Immersion Program was all thanks to a grassroots effort by parents and community members. They formed a non-profit called the French Language Advocates. Prior to the proposal being submitted to the school board, the group came to the table with nearly $40,000 in grant funds already.

The money was used to purchase materials and supplies for the classroom as well as some significant professional development for the teaching staff.

Locke said the district will add a grade every year through the end of 6th grade at O'Malley Elementary. There's also a continuation plan for middle and high school. The school's official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be on September 18th at 6 p.m.

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