By Shawn Chitnis
DENVER (CBS4)– The first class to complete their education at the Denver Language School graduated Thursday. The public K-8 charter school celebrated their academic program where the majority of their classes are taught in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish.
“It’s opened up her brain and her world to say additional languages are something I just see as an everyday part of my life,” said Susan Gallo, a parent of a student at the school.
Early grades have all subjects taught in one of the two languages. As students move up in the school, they take a couple subjects in English but remain immersed in one of the two languages they choose for the duration of their education. Eventually they can choose to take classes in the remaining language, tackling English, Mandarin, and Spanish all at once.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle because you have to put them together,” said Juliana Garcia-Gallo.
Garcia-Gallo entered the school in second grade. She says three years later, she remembers the curriculum started to connect between the two languages she knew, English and Spanish. Her mother says she wanted her daughter to get an education that not only taught her the language but also introduced her to their family heritage and culture.
“As global citizens we need to be able to learn and embrace different languages so that we can communicate with everyone,” Gallo said.
Rhae Schulz came to the school from another immersion program studying Mandarin. Her parents chose that language so she would become closer with her adopted sister from China, who is also enrolled at the school.
“Math in Mandarin is easier than it sounds,” she said. “The only difficult part is the mathematical terms,”
Staff say parents sometimes worry about their students falling behind in English but test results show they keep up or even outperform students at English speaking schools.
“I know and believe that our students are fully prepared for high school,” said Kathy Benzel, the school’s principal.
Students completing the eighth grade and continuing on to a new school say they have already experienced unique lessons that their peers at traditional middle schools may not.
”When I went to Costa Rica with my class,” said Garcia-Gallo. “I felt that it was a lot easier to get around than the other schools that were with us.”
In addition to learning a language at a young age, they are also gain new perspective from teachers that often are from other countries and speak to them only in Mandarin or Spanish.
“Being in Immersion you not only learn the language, that’s half of it but also you learn the culture,” said Schulz.
The Denver Language School’s Class of 2017 had 22 graduates, 10 in the Mandarin program and the remaining students in Spanish. It is a school of choice affiliated with Denver Public Schools and the demand to enroll students is already high. Founded in 2010, the school often has a waiting list for students to join.
“No other school in Colorado has an early total immersion program that continues through eighth grade at the level of immersion and language acquisition available to students,” Benzel said.
After several years of studying in one language that isn’t the one you learned from birth, students feel that they are almost even on their command of the two they now know.
“I would say I’m almost equal, Chinese is just a really challenging and difficult language,” said Schulz. “I would say my English is a little more than proficient but they’re pretty close.”