AURORA - When Ryleigh Vaughn sits in her class listening to her teacher speak Chinese, the thing that people may not understand is that as confusing as Chinese may sound, this all comes natural to the 4th grader.
"Probably because I've been learning at such a young age," said Ryleigh.
That is the whole point of language immersion programs like Global Village Academy in Aurora, according Global Village CEO Christina Burton Howe.
"We're really doing this early enough that they're like sponges," said Burton Howe.
At Global Village, students from kindergarten through 8th grade, spend at least 50 percent of their day immersed in a target language such as Chinese, Russian, or Spanish. Burton Howe says research proves that this is best way for kids to learn a foreign language especially at younger ages.
"If we're gonna do language, we have to do it early and it really has to be around content," said Burton Howe. "It's not really learning about language. It's really helping through language."
Students like Ryleigh are not just learning to speak and write in another language. They are learning science and math through those languages as well.
Ryleigh says it can be tough, at times to learn these subjects in Chinese, but she says struggling through it helps her learn.
"Well, (my teacher) speaks it in Chinese and I'll have a hard time figuring out what she's saying," said Ryleigh. "By using words I understand, it makes sense to me more."
Burton Howe says language immersion certainly pushes kids to the limit, in a good way.
"We're definitely squeezing in twice the brain power," said Burton Howe. "Our kids have to operationalize, get more of the brain operating."
Burton Howe says the whole push for language immersion started in 2006 by the federal government.
"In recognition of the fact that we did not have enough Americans who could speak particular critical languages like Chinese, Arabic, Hindi," said Burton Howe.
The reality is these languages take twice as long for someone to learn than Spanish or French, according to Burton Howe.
"If a language is twice as long to learn, you've got to start in kindergarten," said Burton Howe.
Global Village Academy is a charter school. This status means certain advantages like the ability to hire teachers from all over the world.
"We have people coming in from France and others from Congo," said Sandra Bea, dean of students. "To have teachers from other countries brings also another culture."
But, being a charter school has its challenges, too.
"No doubt, one of the biggest problems charter schools have is that they have to pay for facilities out of their own general fund and often that's up to 20 percent," said Burton Howe.
When it comes to language immersion, one of the biggest questions - how does learning a different language at a young age impact a student's skills in English? Principal Barbara Ridenour says the idea that students have long-term troubles is a myth.
"Our testing scores have shown that by the end of the 1st grade, they have caught up with their peers," said Ridenour.
She says language immersion works in reverse, as well.
Global Village has a lot of students who speak Spanish at home in their Spanish immersion program. She says not only does it refine their Spanish skills by teaching them proper grammar and writing skills, they learn other subjects more easily because they are being taught in Spanish.
"The students are learning in their native language and they're also learning English at the same time," said Ridenour. "So, it's not a crutch. It actually helps them."
Burton Howe says the demand for language immersion program is growing. Her school started with 248 students. Now, she has more than 1,700 students with another 1,600 students on the waiting list for next year.
"Our 3rd grade TCAP scores, our kids are reading on grade or above," said Burton Howe. "All of us would agree, English is important, but we've created a false dilemma in saying it's either/or."
All this week, 9News will profile different types of schools for 9News School Choice Week. Parents have only a few more weeks to make preliminary choices for school for their kids for next year.
If you want to find a good school near you, check out our partners at ColoradoSchoolGrades.com. This is a free website that assigns a letter grade to every school in Colorado, based on academic performance.
Friday, 9News will profile an arts-integrated school.
Ryleigh says at Global Village, she feels like she is getting an advantage over other kids.
"I think it'll help me with my education and job and everything like that," said Ryleigh.
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