Students have a real opportunity to become bilingual when a language academy immerses students in culture and languages, tuition free.
Ana Leon discovered while teaching school in her native Colombia that only wealthy families were able to afford to send children to bilingual schools. English was often not taught by native speakers.
Although she learned English at age 16 in Colombia, she found that she really needed to be surrounded by the language all the time and having to speak it made her fluent in English. Classes were just a part of the process.
“I learned to speak a second language when I was 16. I learned to speak English in my country,” she said. “But I really learned it when I came here.”
Today, Leon is a teacher at World Language Academy. Her students are immersed full time in learning a language as well as cultural studies. They pay no tuition.
“From the country where I’m from, just very, very wealthy people can attend schools like this,” she said. “To have it in a public school is just amazing. You see students here whose families have a lot of money, and you see students who go without necessities, and they sit next to each other. … In countries like mine, in Colombia, you could not even dream of this.”
Leon teaches advanced Spanish at the academy’s intermediate school, where fifth- through sixth-graders learn all the usual subjects — math, science, social studies. But those subjects are taught in Spanish 50 percent of the time, and students are also able to study Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese and French.
There is also a primary school where children in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade learn in Spanish for up to 95 percent of the school day, with the amount of Spanish used decreasing as they get older.