K-12 Immersion Programs:
Articulation and Implementation

The ACIE Newsletter, May 1998, Vol. 1, No. 3

By Pat Barr-Harrison, Supervisor of Foreign Languages,
Prince George's County Schools, Upper Marlboro, Maryland



Over the past three decades, U.S. language immersion programs have steadily increased in number. Still, the number of secondary level immersion programs lags significantly behind the number of elementary immersion programs. Program articulation - the process of providing a seamless and logical transition from the initial kindergarten experience through Grade 12 and thereby ensuring continuity in language proficiency development - continues to be an important issue facing immersion program coordinators and K-12 foreign language supervisors today.

Garcia, Lorenz, and Robison (1995) state that "it is a K-12 plan that ultimately convinces parents of the district's full commitment to immersion." The assurance of long-term, well-articulated support from a school district is vital to the successful realization of the goals of an immersion education. Research has demonstrated that the positive effects on both first- and second-language development, overall academic achieve-ment, and cognition increase when students are enrolled in language learning programs over longer periods of time (Cooper 1987; Genesee 1987; Cummins 1978).

While the complexity of planning and providing support for a K-12 immersion program can seem overwhelming, the efforts are well worth the time and money. In collaboration with many dedicated professionals, Prince George's County Public Schools have developed a K-12 French immersion program model. It is our hope that in sharing one district's response to the challenge of articula-tion, we might initiate an ongoing dialogue with other immersion programs and encourage them to embrace the articulation challenge, too. -T.F.

Prince George's County Public Schools, a suburban school system next to the nation's capital, has French immersion pro-grams in two elementary schools (K-6), two middle schools (7-8), and one high school (9-12). The school system is the seventeenth largest school system in the nation, with a variety of foreign language programming, including FLES, FLEX, immersion, and a Spanish dual language program. This article focuses on the immersion program sequence from kindergarten through Grade 12.

In planning the K-12 immersion program, it was important for program planners to discuss an instructional plan with a designated committee at least two years in advance of program implemention. The committee included the principal, the key coordinators or planners of immersion, an immersion teacher, and someone who had already developed or implemented a similar program. The Prince George's County Public School Model began by reviewing the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Montgomery County, Maryland, elementary immersion programs. Two of the planners visited one program, talked with teachers, and began an outline for phasing in an immersion program.


The phase-in plan consisted of articulation meetings with regular teachers and coordinators of reading language arts, math, and science programs. It was important to understand the regular curriculum before attempting to find books and materials in French for the immersion program. The components of the plan were:

  • A proposed outline of what would be taught through French

  • Scheduling concerns (time factors)

  • Textbooks that would be needed

  • Supplementary materials

  • Library books

  • Equipment needs

  • Staff development/Inservice proposals

  • A budget for the program that included staffing, translation, and consultant fees

Articulation sessions were scheduled with the principals/instructional personnel/parent support team, and other individuals who would impact the immersion program.

All elements of the phase-in plan were essential in planning the kindergarten/Grade 1 years; they continue to be essential components in implementing a new grade level each year. In order to maintain the continuity and the support for the program, an immersion team was organized and still meets once a month to address articulation and implementation concerns. The group consists of the foreign language supervisor, immersion teacher coordinator from each school, the principal, and the magnet coordinator. Other people are invited, such as parents and content area specialists. Some of the topics have been assessment and testing, reading for different purposes, essay and creative writing, using technology, special projects, parent concerns, and more.

In addition, the teachers from the two immersion schools meet by grade levels during the school year. They discuss the curriculum, learning scenarios, reading and communica-tion skills, and assessment and technology.

Prince George's County immersion program has evolved into a model that is recognized by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D.C., as an example of an early start, long sequence foreign language program. A case study has been conducted on the middle school model, and information from this study will be reported by CAL to assist others in their efforts to set up and maintain their own articulated model. The K-12 model used during the 1997- 1998 academic year is as follows:


The Kindergarten is a full-day program. All core subjects (math, science, health, reading language arts, and social studies) are taught in French. At the end of the first year of the program, the children can express themselves quite well in French.


In first grade the children learn to read in French before reading in English, while they continue to study all their subjects using the French language as the language of instruction. In grade two, English language arts is introduced daily during a 45-minute class with a certified English language arts teacher. The curriculum of math, science, social studies, health, and French language arts continues to be taught in French up through Grade 6. When students complete the sixth grade, they have a strong academic background and are also bilingual in French and English.


There are two classes taught back-to-back in French at the middle school, one is French language arts and culture, and the second is the world studies class. In addition, students study Spanish, Latin, Russian, or Japanese through an exploratory course in Grade 7. Students must select one of the exploratory languages from Grade 7, and begin their third language in Grade 8. Also, algebra and geometry are possible options in math. The interdisciplinary approach for English, art, and world studies includes special themes, seminars, field trips, and a strong focus on essay writing. International travel is an enrichment part of the immersion program.


At the high school, the immersion students are offered two immersion classes back-to-back, which become part of a pre-International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. These are the French language, life, and civilization course, and the French language and literature course. Students are required to either take both of the immersion courses or they may take one of the immersion courses and continue study of the third foreign language that began at the middle-school level. Third-language options include Spanish, Latin, German, Japanese, and Russian. Other curricular options are IB preparation courses for English, history, and science, with access to chemistry and calculus. Higher-level IB or advanced placement (AP) are options offered in the second language. In addition to the exchange program, there are special projects such as field trips to the French embassy, theater, and electronic keypals.

Through the team approach, articulation continues to bring about ongoing support and funding for Prince George's immersion programs.




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