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First graders at one metro school aren’t just learning to read and write. They’re learning to do it in a foreign language.

Language immersion programs are growing in popularity across the country as teachers train the next generation to compete in a global society. One metro program is wrapping up its second year of an immersion program that teaches kids in Spanish from the moment they start school.

Teacher Miss Aguilar says, “This is the first grade class. They started last year, and they didn’t know any Spanish at all.”

Now, she says her class at St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Des Moines can perform The Three Little Pigs in Spanish, read books in Spanish, and even help older siblings with their Spanish homework. Vinnie Bertagnolli says, “My sister is 15 and I help her.”

Principal Dr. Joe Cordaro says, “The plan is to bring students into the program that are not Spanish speaking. And, when they arrive in Kindergarten, and now first grade as well, they are taught in only Spanish for 90% of the day.”

The students learn all the subjects, including reading, writing, math and science. Miss Aguilar says, “We learn all the subjects. We are working on science. We have a project, we planted some seeds.”

St. Anthony’s started the program last year. The plan is to add a grade every year. Dr. Cordaro says, “What we know from our research is that by the time we to 5th grade, they’ll be fluent in Spanish and English. That means read, write and speak two languages by fifth grade.”

Dr. Cordaro says they got the idea from a Catholic school in Dubuque. He says the program has been a success so far at St. Anthony’s with 25 students enrolled in each grade, and interest from surrounding areas. He says, “We have a student in 1st grade who lives with his grandparents in Panora which is about an hour away.”

Dr. Cordaro says grant money and donations pay for the program. Spanish Immersion students also pay an extra $100 in tuition a year.

Pella Christian School will offer a Spanish Immersion program next school year for pre-school, Kindergarten and 1st grade.