On Thursday, 45 eighth-grade students were recognized for their achievements in the Cabrillo Unified School District’s Spanish Immersion Program. Retired kindergarten teacher Joyce Hodge attended the event to congratulate her former students.
“It really was special to see the kids,” she said. “A lot of them came up to me and hugged me. It was hard to recognize them. They’ve grown so much.”
Hodge was the first teacher in the immersion program when it began almost 30 years ago. Since then she’s seen many of her former students continue with their dual language studies through high school and beyond.
Juan Ramon Diaz is one such student. Two years ago, he graduated from Half Moon Bay High School, where he received the California Seal of Biliteracy recognizing a high level of proficiency in reading, speaking and writing more than one language, as well as a scholarship from the Spanish Immersion Parents’ Association. Diaz is now studying at the College of San Mateo with plans to pursue a degree in law. He is interested in possibly becoming a district attorney some day.
He spoke to the graduates who are walking the path he trod not so long ago, sharing how his dual language skills have helped him in college and in making career choices.
The CUSD program is known as two-way Spanish-English immersion. Half of the new kindergarten students come from English-speaking homes and half come from homes where Spanish is spoken.
Diaz was one of the native Spanish speakers in the program. He said that the Spanish spoken in his home was more of a dialect, not the professional Spanish he would need in a career. Being in the immersion program gave him a professional proficiency of his own native language. He also gained strong language skills in English, which he feels would have been more difficult in an English-only program.
“Having a teacher that speaks Spanish, you gain a connection that you wouldn’t with a teacher who only speaks English,” he said.
Previously, immersion students at Cunha were only together for one class during zero period, before the regular school day began. Three years ago, the school incorporated immersion into the two-period language arts class. The immersion kids are now together for two periods during which they study the same material covered in English language arts but in both languages. The graduating eighth-graders are the first group to benefit from the program change.
This is the first time eighth-grade immersion students have been officially recognized for their achievements.
“This was the first time, but I think it is going to become the norm,” said Hodge. “I think (the immersion program) is a little gem in our school district. I feel blessed to have been a part of such a great program. It was my life for many years.”