Juntos all grown up

Hopkins secondary Spanish immersion program continues to evolve
November 09, 2015

The Juntos Spanish immersion program is growing up and growing into high school, and Spanish teacher Tim Owen has been handed the torch.

Sophomores who have been part of the Juntos track since seventh-grade are now entering the final stretch of their K-12 education ready to take Owen's Juntos 4 class. Having already completed AP (Advanced Placement) Spanish coursework as freshman, Juntos students are accustomed to rigor, and are ready for the high school.

"I am carrying the torch from an extremely successful junior-high program," said Owen. "I am inheriting a group of students that are passionate, and I am so proud to be part of the Juntos family."

A blended secondary Spanish immersion program
Juntos is a secondary (7-12) Spanish immersion program for students who are native Spanish speakers or who have completed an elementary Spanish immersion program. Enrollment comes from heritage Spanish speakers who attend Hopkins, as well as from students who completed other elementary immersion programs. To date, Hopkins retains about 85 percent of students who attend the International Spanish Language Academy (ISLA), a K-6 Minnetonka Spanish immersion charter school. The uniqueness of Juntos is the mix of immersion students and heritage speakers.

"Juntos is one of the most rewarding program I have ever worked on," said Lisa Sohn, world language coordinator for Hopkins Public Schools. "Creating this blend of students is something that we are very proud of. Both groups bring so much to the table and have so much to learn from each other."

At the junior-high level, the Juntos curriculum is wide in scope and focused on humanities courses that cover a range of topics like geography, culture, and literature, while also concentrating on literacy skills and grammar. The sequence includes a science component, which is rare. Most secondary Spanish immersion programs focus on social studies.

High rigor and high achievement
The model has been incredibly successful with students taking AP and CiS (College in the Schools) courses a year earlier than their peers. Last year's freshman took AP Spanish Language, and 97 percent of the class earned a score of 3 or above on the spring AP exam. Scores of 4 and 5 are capable of earning college credit.

"Juntos students already have a high level of proficiency in Spanish, and are able to dig deeper into any given theme," said Sohn. "Through Juntos, they will gain bilingualism that will give them an advantage in global job markets."

When they enter high school, sophomore and junior Juntos students take CiS curriculum that is adapted to meet their needs. An additional AP Spanish Literature class is being added next year for seniors. The entire Juntos sequence can earn students up to 16 college credits before graduation.
Although students don't typically take CiS coursework until their junior year, Owen has made his CiS course harder for his Juntos sophomores, incorporating more writing, presenting, and rigorous readings. Students who are not part of Juntos come to class with a deep sense of grammar, but they are not comfortable engaging in conversational Spanish.

"The needs of the students are different," said Owen. "Juntos students are extremely comfortable talking in Spanish, while, for typical Spanish learners, speaking is often the biggest challenge."

Advocating for change
Last spring, Hopkins administrators advocated on behalf of Juntos sophomores at the Capitol. Because of University of Minnesota regulations, only junior and senior students could take CiS classes, and Juntos students were not able to take Juntos 4, a CiS class, in their first year of high school, despite being academically ready for it.

Superintendent John Schultz and Diane Schimelpfenig, the director of teaching and learning at that time, testified at the Capitol in support of bills authored by Rep. Yvonne Selcer and Sen. Terri Bonoff, allowing students to take CiS classes a year earlier. The bills were approved by the Legislature last session.

"Our Juntos students, both the heritage learners and those who came from elementary Spanish immersion experiences, were ready for College in the Schools coursework at a younger age," said Schimelpfenig. "This language change allows us to better meet the instructional needs of our Juntos students throughout their secondary experience."

Continuing to build strong relationships
Teaching Juntos has energized Owen. His commitment to his students, and to providing relevant instruction, is nearly limitless. Last summer, he studied in Guanajuato, Mexico, at the don Quijote Spanish School. For nearly 10 hours a day, he worked with a widely-respected professor, Pedro Rodríguez Valladeres, who designed university language instruction programming and has a long history working with language institutions in Mexico. Owen developed and tweaked his curriculum, and immersed himself in Mexican culture. He plans to make these trips annual habits.

"I saw my students in the people I would engage with, break bread with, and converse with. I felt privileged to be reminded of what a treasure their homeland is," he said.

Juntos translates to "together," and it is fitting. Classes have a family spirit, and students are comfortable with each other. One way Owen celebrates this sense of community is by hosting fiestas featuring Latin and American food, and Latino speakers. He is planning more events that bring students together. Whether his students come from Latino or American backgrounds, he wants them to be proud of their heritage.

"This is an opportunity for the students to share how deeply proud they are of their family and culture. When they share with each other, they realize they have more in common than not."

Learn more about Juntos Spanish immersion program, visit www.HopkinsSchools.org/juntos.

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