Return to Headlines

A World of Opportunity: Language Immersion

Students at SES get a taste of learning Spanish at Stetson Elementary.

When Stetson Elementary opens its doors for the 2023-24 school year, morning greetings in the building will sound a little different.

¡Bienvenidos estudiantes! ¿Cómo están ustedes hoy?

The first of its kind in District 49, Stetson Elementary is launching a new language immersion program—Operation World Language (OWL), bringing extensive Spanish instruction to classrooms. Language immersion programs promote biliteracy, academic achievement in two languages and sociocultural understanding. Students maintain their first language, while adding a second to their skillset.

For its inaugural year, Stetson will offer the program to students in kindergarten and first grade, with plans to add a grade-level each following year.

“This is going to bring incredible opportunities to our students enrolled in the program,” Beth Dowdy, principal, said. “It will enhance our school’s culture in so many ways, increasing diversity and promoting social awareness.”

The D49 community has expressed ongoing interest in language immersion that is growing in popularity across the nation. It’s especially in-demand with military-connected families, which includes about 25 percent of students in District 49.

Learners at Stetson Elementary will soon have the opportunity to learn in a Spanish immersion classroom.

Bilingual Classrooms Build Perseverance

Families might wonder, “What will a typical day look like in a language-immersion classroom?” The daily routine and curriculum will seem quite similar to any other primary grade classroom, with one exception: educators will teach 80 percent of the academic content in Spanish. Students will learn just 20 percent of the curriculum in English, primarily language arts.

“One of the most positive outcomes of the program will be learning about grit and perseverance,” said Dowdy. “English speaking students will experience what it’s like to be a non-proficient language learner alongside Spanish speaking students. Think about what it takes to learn in a program like this … students will be uncomfortable, but that’s when they grow.”

Each Operation World Language classroom will include a mix of student backgrounds. Research shows that bringing together students from predominantly English-speaking homes and learners from households where the primary language is Spanish can enhance learning for everyone. Dual-language immersion often minimizes the achievement gap between English learners and their peers in English-only schooling.

But the benefits of learning a second language don’t stop there.

Social Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Dual-language immersion programs cultivate empathy with others and spark curiosity about different languages.

“Anytime you can better understand someone else’s perspective, it’s a win-win situation,” Dowdy said. “Already, helping develop the new program has really enlightened my understanding of the school’s culturally and linguistically diverse students.”

D49 hired Jessica Crawford Nelson to serve as the dual language immersion specialist to lead work with facilitating curriculum for the program and to guide teachers on world language instruction. She will visit the language-immersion classrooms on a regular basis and help the bilingual instructors plan a path of proficiency for students in the program.

“It starts with helping students understand other cultures. One of my favorite things about immersion programs is that students start to look for connections rather than looking for differences in each other,” said Crawford Nelson. “It’s about inspiring and developing global citizens with 21st century skills.”

One of those 21st century skills is biliteracy. Students who start learning a second language early can continue studying world languages in middle and high school, and have the opportunity to earn the D49 Seal of Biliteracy, an attractive achievement for future employers and college admissions.

Jessica Crawford Nelson is helping introduce Spanish to learners at Stetson Elementary.

Enrolling in the Language Immersion Program

Interested families are encouraged to reserve a spot soon as there are only 50 spots available for next school year—25 seats in each grade. To apply for the program, the first step is to complete a School of Choice Application, even if already a current student at Stetson Elementary or incoming for the ’23-24 school year. Applying does not guarantee a spot in the program; once enrollment closes, D49 will coordinate a lottery process. 

The program requires a commitment from parents and students as proficiency in two languages requires extensive exposure to both languages. Research shows parental involvement is key to success in a language immersion program, and parents will need to contribute volunteer time  to the program.

Operation World Language (OWL) at Stetson Elementary is made possible thanks to a generous grant from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). The fifth grant for D49 in seven years, the OWL Grant provides two million dollars to increase the availability and use of world language instruction in order to support academic success and post-graduation opportunities in District 49.

To learn more about the program, please visit the Stetson Elementary School website at

Also, Stetson is hosting four informational sessions on the OWL program for interested families.

Friday, Feb. 17 at 10:00 a.m.
Thursday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 4 at 4:00 p.m.
Friday, April 28 at 6:00 p.m.


Amy Matisek