KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — South Knoxville Elementary launched a new program this fall, teaching Spanish to second and third graders. Students are immersing themselves in the language and educators are hoping to turn the pilot into something permanent.
“I think it’s exciting to learn about another culture. We have some diversity in our school, in our district and it’s great to learn about that from a different lens, a different perspective,” said Dr. Tanna Nicely, the principal at South Knoxville Elementary.
The school is partnering with Centro Hispano de East Tennesssee to bring in teachers once a week and lead students through interactive Spanish immersion.
“Something seen as simple as language can really open up the world for people,” said Claudia Caballero, the President and CEO at Centro Hispano.
The nonprofit serves as the leading resource for East Tennessee’s Latino community.
“So much of the world speaks Spanish. Being able to have those language skills as basic as they may be is beneficial,” said Caballero.
School and community leaders are already witnessing how bilingual education can help children of all backgrounds.
“Really increases your earning potential, your view of the world, your comfort in navigating the world, your opportunities and your abilities to see different people and different cultures through a new light,” said Caballero.
Principal Dr. Nicely says they decided to target the younger grade levels because scientific data shows the sooner a child is exposed to a new language, the better.
She believes it’s an invaluable life skill and learning is contagious.
“I think once we get the data, and we are able to share it with other principals in the district I feel like this is something that will catch on. You saw it yourself; the excitement is enough, that’s data enough to say this is working,” said Principal Dr. Nicely.
The county commission, city council and school board all helped get the program off the ground.
The pilot program is funded through December.
If it’s successful, community and school leaders would eventually like to roll out the program for all the elementary schools in the district.