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Belvedere Elementary will have Mandarin Chinese courses offered to students beginning next year.

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world and represents a growing presence within South Carolina’s business and industry sectors, and students at Belvedere Elementary School will be able to tap into that learning and earning potential starting in August. Aiken County Public Schools’ World Language Opportunities for elementary school students doesn’t stop there, though.

Belvedere will join Clearwater and Millbrook Elementary schools as World Language Immersion campuses beginning in the 2019-20 school year. Clearwater Elementary will feature language and cultural immersion in Spanish; Millbrook Elementary will offer the same unique programming in German. Elementary World Language programs in Aiken County Public Schools will begin with Kindergarten students, and expand to later grades as students advance in grade-level instruction.

“Beginning the program in Kindergarten provides the opportunity for the first cohorts to be immersed throughout their elementary grades thereby increasing the likelihood of becoming fluent in the second language,” said Aiken County Public Schools Executive Director of Elementary Schools Julie Revelle.

Offering World Language Programs to students early in their primary school years is part of Aiken County’s strategic vision to advance the district forward on a path to premier.

“Everything that’s said about the research and the success students experience is indisputable,” Art Lader, longtime German educator said to school board members as they considered their Jan. 8 vote on the programs. “I’ve stopped reading the studies. What I think needs to be discussed is the joy of foreign language programs, the joy students experience singing, dancing and eating cultural foods. Sometimes we forget about that in education, and that’s truly what’s most important.”

Clearwater Elementary School, with approximately 37 percent of student population of Hispanic descent, will feature Spanish language immersion. The choice of Spanish will provide additional literacy support for all in an effort to enhance literacy in English as well as the focus language.

“Our Hispanic population continues to grow at Clearwater,” the school’s Principal Trey Laube commented. “This not only allows our non-Hispanic students to have an opportunity to learn a second language, but as a school we get to explore a culture that a large percentage of our stakeholders grew up knowing.”

The Aiken area has garnered a statewide reputation for excellence in German language preparation, and the growing business and industry presence in South Carolina with BMW and Volvo and locally through the Aiken Works apprenticeship program at MTU America in Graniteville means there is no shortage of opportunities for future-ready students in Aiken County. At Millbrook Elementary, students will engage the German language ahead of established foreign language programs at Aiken High School and South Aiken High School.

“German is a language that is desired by many of the major industries throughout the world and specifically those close to Aiken County,” said Millbrook Elementary Principal John Metts. “Our students will become more culturally aware of our diverse world and have language skills that will help them secure a position in a career that is personally rewarding for them. I am super excited to see the joy students have when they are successful in learning a new language.”

Research related to immersive language programs suggests the earlier students are engaged with a foreign language the better they perform, and that world language immersion can also increase student test scores and provide students with a more robust vocabulary. Additionally, advantages of world language immersion also include possible access to greater opportunities in the future related to postsecondary and employment opportunities, increased earning potential and a greater appreciation for cultural diversity.

“When a person experiences a different language, the person also learns about the culture of the people who speak the language and it increases the appreciation of other groups and helps students develop a greater understanding of the value of all people,” Dr. Sal Minolfo, Belvedere Elementary’s Principal added.

The program will be implemented in a tiered approach that will provide greater language immersion and exposure with each succeeding year. New teachers will be added at all three schools each year as students matriculate and their language skills increase.

During the 2019-20 school year, an initial cohort of Kindergarten students will receive instruction in their school’s respective second language for a significant portion of the day. While the programs will begin with language immersion in just the Kindergarten classrooms, the cultural aspects of the school’s designated World Language will be emphasized throughout the school and student body. During the program’s second year, World Language teachers will spend approximately 2.5 hours with first-grade students co-teaching in science, math and lab time, and 2.5 hours with kindergarten students.

For information on submitting a transfer application to an Aiken County Public Schools’ Elementary World Language Immersion Program, visit acpsd.net. On the navigation bar hover over “I AM …” and then select “A Parent/Guardian." Scroll down and select “School Choice” on the left hand side of the page. District schools can also provide parents with this information.