Rigby, Idaho - Jefferson School District is planning to start a language immersion program at Jefferson Elementary school in Rigby. School administrators are deciding between implementing Spanish or Chinese for the 2013-2014 school year.
School administrators recently returned from a trip to China with 450 U.S. educators to learn more about Chinese culture and their school system.
"It was amazing going to another country. You always have these preconceived notions, especially with China being a communist country, but when it comes down to it, they want their kids to be educated just like we do, and they want what's best for their people just like we do. So there was a lot of common ground that I found when I was there," said Jefferson Elementary School principal Michele Southwick.
She added China's rising power on a global economic level pushes their district to pick Chinese as the language of choice for their immersion program.
"All over the world, a second language is considered a must or essential, and for us we say we value it but we don't give kids the opportunity until middle school or high school, I think we're doing a disservice by doing that. I think it needs to start younger, when they're excited and can really learn it," Southwick said.
Come next fall, if parent support continues, Han-Ban, a Chinese organization that provides resources for immersion programs all over the world, would team up with Jefferson School District to send native-speaking teachers to Jefferson Elementary. Implementing the program would mean incoming kindergartners in immersion classrooms would be taught completely in Chinese.
"The teacher never speaks English to them. Up until January of first grade, they can speak English to each other, but after that point, they can't even speak english to each other. It's amazing, they do it," said Southwick.
Jefferson Elementary is planning for two immersion classes if the program has enough parent support. They need more than 60 students registered in February to start the immersion program for the following school year. If the registration numbers are met, the school district would begin the hiring process for teachers. As those immersion students move up in grade level, new teachers would be hired to continue with the immersion curriculum throughout high school.