By Theresa Knapp
Nearly 20 percent of the students at Millis High School are part of the Millis Public School district’s Spanish Immersion Program, and they began their journey in first grade at the Clyde Brown Elementary School, says MHS principal Mark Awdycki.
Adria Osborne is a first grade teacher at Clyde Brown; she initiated the immersion program in 1996 under then-Superintendent Caroline White, who had experience in a previous district with a French immersion program and wanted to bring a similar program to Millis.
Osborne said a committee visited local immersion programs before deciding to initiate the Spanish program in Millis. She had been interested in starting such a program for many years.
“My mother was from another country and I grew up surrounded by various languages and cultures, inventing my own ‘language’ as a child,” Osborne explained. “When I heard about the first Spanish immersion program in the United States in California many years ago, I made the determination that I would someday start a program that mirrored the features of that program.”
Osborne also became interested in English as a Second Language after her grandmother was ridiculed in a supermarket when she stumbled over the English word for ‘plastic bag.’ After that incident, Osborne decided to become an ESL/ELL teacher with a focus on immersion education. During her career, she has taught and directed ESL/ELL programs, and worked in bilingual education and heritage language programs.
Osborne says her experience with the immersion program in Millis over the past 26 years has been one of supportive families and staff. She says the working relationship the district has with the government of Spain and the many visiting teachers and cultural assistants from Spain, who have worked and stayed in Millis over the years, has been an important part of the experience.
Tanna Jango has been the principal at Clyde Brown Elementary School for two years. She says she applied for the position, in part, because of the immersion program.
“I was immediately drawn to [the job posting] because of the experience I had with my own children going through a Spanish Immersion Program [in the Medon-Upton school district]. I had the advantage of understanding SI from the parent perspective as well as the educational benefits it affords to students.”
Jango says the program enriches the lives of the students involved in the program as well as the culture of the school. “In our morning message video each day, one of our immersion students introduces our school to a word in Spanish and states the corresponding English word.” She says the elementary school is also creating a “multicultural display with artifacts from some of the Spanish-speaking countries our families or staff come from.”
Millis Public Schools Superintendent Robert Mullaney says the district’s three schools - Clyde Brown Elementary School, Millis Middle School, and Millis High School - are all recognized as International Spanish Academies, a network of schools that partner with the Ministry of Education, Social Policy, and Sport of Spain that ensures an “exemplary standard of quality and sharing of best practices and resources.”
Mullaney says the district has a firm belief in the benefits of students being bilingual as it “strengthens listening skills, correlates to high academic performance in both high school and college, enhances cultural awareness and respect for diversity, and provides more options for employment. Our immersion seniors are able to document a unique educational experience that sets them apart when competing for scholarships or college admission.”
Mullaney says, “The immersion program has also strengthened our traditional Spanish learning program as both Immersion and non-Immersion students are eligible to take Advanced Placement Spanish Language in their senior year. Over the past five years, one out of every three seniors took AP Spanish (last year 36% of our seniors took AP Spanish with a 94% passing rate).”
MHS Principal Awdycki says the “assistants’ first-hand knowledge of the culture and history of Spain, coupled with their native speaking abilities, provide our students and teachers with authentic learning experiences and interactions. In turn, we are able to give the assistants the teaching and cultural experiences they are looking for in an American public school. We are as excited to learn from them as they are from us. It’s become a crucial part of our program at all levels, and our entire school community benefits from this incredible program.”