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How David Cassidy Influenced My Children’s Bilingual Education

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When I was in Junior High I read Tiger Beat (think People Magazine for 12-year-olds) cover to cover, going over the David Cassidy features at least three times before flipping through the rest.

I remember one article, though, about Jodie  Foster. It said she went to a school where they spoke only French. All reading assignments, testing, lunchtime conversation, etc. were in a foreign language.

Having taken a year or so of French—45 minutes every other day—I did not  believe this was possible. I assumed the story was as realistic as my shot at winning the Tiger Beat Dream Date with David Cassidy.

Actually, at 12, I likely thought I had a better chance of a date with David then Jodie did of speaking French all day, every day.

 When our oldest was getting ready for elementary school, I was surprised one of  our options was a Spanish Immersion program. All day, every day. Beginning  with the first day of kindergarten the kids, as Jodie Foster had, learned solely in a  second language. We signed on the dotted line.

Years later, on a family trip to Mexico, the two older boys, now in third and fifth grade, confidently spoke Spanish to everyone; other families at the hotel, tour  guides, waiters, bus drivers. On that vacation my youngest, just a few months into kindergarten would say Hola or ¿Cómo estás? then let his brothers handle the rest.

One morning my husband woke me early. Through pasty, chalk-white lips he muttered, “dying,” or “last rites,” or something similar. Our youngest son, up early because he has been up early every single, solitary day of his life—without fail—(he learned how to operate the VCR at 18 months) walked to town with me.

A little more than a mile from the hotel we found a small store where a solitary young woman manned the cash register. “English?” I asked. She nodded no. I pointed at my stomach and grimaced. Good enough. She seemed to understand.

She reached below the counter and handed me a classic pink bottle, Pepto-Bismol. Our rudimentary communication had worked. Kind of. But, I knew Pepto-Bismol wouldn’t cut it. I rubbed my tummy again. I grimaced bigger and loudly added, “Stronger. Stronger.” She stared at me. I tried again. Nothing.

My five-year-old hadn’t paid too much attention to all this jabber, but he suddenly  seemed to take pity on me. He looked calmly at the woman, made a Popeye forearm and said, “Mas fuerte.” She turned away from us, grabbed something, and handed back a bottle of Imodium A-D.

I’ve since learned in immersion education the teachers communicate both conversationally and through visual cues. I’m awestruck by this program that not only teaches that traditional elementary school curriculum but also gives these children fluency in a second language. I’ve come to believe all learning is a leap of faith, but one well worth the jump.

Tiger Beat told me the truth, if not in regard to a Dream Date with David Cassidy, at least about Jodie Foster.

Jacy Sutton, author of Available to Chat, has written for the New York Times’ Motherlode column and Perfection Pending. Jacy lives in Minneapolis with her husband, three sons and an attention-seeking Brittany Spaniel.

Photo: Russ Bowling

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