Calvin University includes high school students in its Spanish program

Students who complete the program can earn a language minor before attending college.
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Only Calvin Christian High School students are involved this year, but the program could expand to other Christian schools in the fall. Courtesy Nora Koster

Students at Grandville Calvin Christian Schools can earn a minor in Spanish at Calvin University.

The university last fall concluded the first semester of its inaugural Spanish Immersion program. The school welcomed the first cohort of high-schoolers who, according to Dwight TenHuisen, chair of the Spanish department at Calvin University, completed and passed their Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Language and Culture course and examination their sophomore year.

Calvin’s Spanish Immersion program provides high school students the opportunity to further learn and understand the Spanish language and culture at the collegiate level after being immersed in the program since they were kindergarteners.

We approached Calvin University because we knew that a partnership between the schools could be mutually beneficial,” said Katy Rozema, Spanish Immersion director for Grandville Calvin Christian Schools. “For us, it could minimize some of the challenges of implementing a high school Spanish Immersion program and add some additional benefits for our students that wouldn’t be available at the high school. Students can participate in advanced Spanish language courses, develop academic literacy skills, establish college readiness and earn college credit while in high school.

“Students even have the opportunity to earn a Spanish minor before graduating from high school. For Calvin University, it increases enrollment in their 300-level Spanish classes and provides a cohort of students each year who will have a connection to the university and may be more likely to choose Calvin for their post-secondary education.”

TenHuisen said students who are enrolled in the Spanish Immersion program at Calvin University can get up to 18 college credit hours, depending on their AP examination scores, which goes toward a minor. Starting in their junior year, students can begin taking classes and can complete four courses during the rest of their high school careers.

“With the (required) results from the AP exam, students start at Calvin their junior year and they take one class the fall of their junior year, one course in the spring of their junior year, one course in the fall of their senior year and one course in the spring of their senior year,” he said. “Those four courses plus their AP results, in most cases, will give them an equivalent of 18 hours. If they got a (score of) 5 on the AP exam, they will have 18 hours. If they got a 4 on the AP exam, they will have 15 hours.”

After completing the first semester of the inaugural program at Calvin University, Spanish professor Abraham Ceballos-Zapata said all the high school students came ready and well prepared in the way they talked, discussed and engaged in different topics.

Savoie Bryce, a junior at Calvin Christian High School, said she has been enrolled in the Spanish Immersion program since kindergarten and she continued throughout her elementary, middle school and high school years.

“In elementary school, it was all day in Spanish,” she said. “All of our classes were in Spanish up until about fifth grade where it switched a bit. We had most of our classes in English and just two classes in Spanish. We had language and culture classes, where we would learn grammar things or read and write in Spanish. It went back and forth every other year. One class would either be history, or it would be science. In sixth grade, we had science in Spanish and in seventh grade we had history in Spanish. In ninth grade we, again, had two classes in Spanish. One was a language and grammar class and the other was our Bible class. In 10th and 11th grade, we had a Spanish class and then a history class.”

Ceballos-Zapata said the college course, Introduction to College-Level Spanish Studies, focused on the reading levels of students. The students attended classes on the Calvin University campus three days per week. Much of the course involved reading one or two long, in-depth Spanish articles per week that spanned multiple pages. Some of the articles focused on indigenous communities in Latin America and Afro-Latino communities in Latin America.

Although Melissa Scholten, a junior at Calvin Christian High School, will earn a minor in Spanish when she graduates from high school, if her academic career continues on its current trajectory, she said she is still undecided on what she wants to do in college. But she knows her minor in Spanish will prove to be beneficial.

“I hope to use this at my job because I know it opens so many more doors to be able to communicate with different types of people and I know it will look great on resumes,” she said. “People like having that extra skill set without having to use a translator.”

Even though this will be the first academic year for the Spanish Immersion program at Calvin University, TenHuisen said district officials already are looking to improve the program.

“We have agreed to organize summer trips, three-week trips for students, which will give them academic credit,” he said. “It would be a short-term semester abroad at a host institution either in Mexico, Peru, Spain or Honduras.”

TenHuisen said next year the plan is to add Grand Rapids Christian Schools and West Michigan Christian Schools to the progeram.

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