In 2006 Zeeland Christian School was approached by a group of homeschool moms who had dreams to create a bridge to another culture for their children. Zeeland Christian, inspired by this idea, took a leap of faith and launched a Spanish Immersion program enrolling children in three-school, preschool, kindergarten, and first grade.
“The 3-part goal we have for these students is that they are learning content, but they are also doing that while learning a second language. At the same time they are gaining cultural competency; growing and understanding the culture and being able to connect with people in all different sorts of settings,” said Jeff Minkus, Spanish Immersion teacher who taught the kids four separate times during their years at Zeeland Christian.
“These were students and families that were willing to take a risk and trust Zeeland Christian to be a part of that and that they would still meet their educational goals meeting the content while learning a different language at the same time.”
The students and parents of that first grade class paved the way for the rest of the immersion program to follow. “They were on display as examples of how this program could work, and they handled it well,” said Nancy Pyle, ZCS Preschool Director who helped develop the program.
“It’s been a very unique experience, and although I don’t know what it will do for me in the future, I know that it has opened a lot of doors for me,” said Nathan Vander Beek (Immersion student).
The flexibility and willingness of the students to test things out opened up opportunities not just for themselves, but also for the school and the community as well. After spending eight years in the immersion program at Zeeland Christian, the class graduated and split; some went to Zeeland Public and some to Holland Christian.
The kids continued receiving immersion education supplemented by their respective schools and then moved on to taking classes at Hope College.
“It was a good experience for me and now I can use what I learned in the future, in college and beyond,” said Elise Kuiper (Immersion Student).
As this class graduates high school this year, they will be going their separate ways to pursue their interests and their opportunities are tremendous. We are excited to see how these students will help to bridge the culture gap in the world around them.
“Their language is a part of their identity, the fact that they can speak multiple languages helps them to navigate multiple cultures and settings and gives them so many opportunities for things that they will be able to accomplish and be a part of,” said Jeff Minkus.