MINNETONKA, Minn. - Fifth-grade students murmer to each other as they read through their text at Scenic Heights Elementary.
Bend in a little closer and you will hear they are speaking Mandarin Chinese. Scenic Heights and Excelsior each host Chinese immersion programs in the Minnetonka School District and now these students are ready to move on to middle schoool.
"We were told when we came into the program that there was a commitment to take it all the way through the high school," said parent Nancy Getzkin whose son, David, is about to make the leap.
So is the Minnetonka District, which starting next year will offer Chinese and Spanishimmersion for its students who have completed the programs at the elementary level.
That makes Minnetonka one of the few districts in the country to offer a program at the middle school level and with good reason. Immersion programs are tricky past those elementary years.
"They (middle schoolers) don't want to look different, they don't want to sound different," said Minnetonka Middle School East principal Pete Dymit. "They're becoming aware that immersion is something that their parents chose for them and it wasn't something they chose for themselves."
Scenic Heights principal Joe Wacker thinks his students will transition well.
"Our middle school has done a great job of coming up with a program that does two things," Wacker explained. "Number one, meeting the kids as middle schoolers, because they're different than elementary kids. And also a program that can keep them growing in their Chinese and Spanish."
Wacker has a big stake inthe program'ssuccess as he has three children enrolled in the program at Scenic Heights.
"To listen to my kids able to navigate that Chinese without any problems has been really impressive," said Wacker.
Moving it to middle school means the district had to find a way to still offer students classes that take kids out of their Spanish and Chinese immersion programs. Things like music, physical education, differentiated math and science courses.
"What we've done is we've targeted their social studies class," said Dymit.
The middle school will add an extra 35 minutes to the 52 minute social studies class to teach that subject plus language in that block. Students will have a concentrated amount of time in their second language and still be able to take classes that put them in with the general population of Minnetonka middle schoolers.
That too is important.
"They need to celebrate their identity and their differences but they also need to feel like they're a Minnetonka 6th grader and not exclusively a Chinese immersion student or a Spanish immersion student," said Dymit.