Opinions

OPINION: I’m a product of Anchorage schools’ language immersion program. Here’s how it affected me.

Anchorage School Board meeting

My name is Emily Ogilvie-Fiacco and I am one of the lucky ones.

In May of 2021, I graduated from West Anchorage High School with academic and athletic honors, as well as with a seal of biliteracy, after completing the Spanish Immersion Program. I am beyond grateful for the immersion program because of how much it has shaped my life and my experiences, both pre- and post-graduation. As I am almost halfway through my second year of college, I still am utilizing my Spanish background. Currently, I am double majoring in psychology and Spanish (language and culture), with a minor in exercise science, and I can say matter-of-factly that my passion for Spanish would not exist without my full K-12 immersive experience.

Growing up, whether it was at Government Hill or Romig, a significant portion of my daily education was instructed fully in Spanish, and it was during these first nine years that I had the opportunity to gain a foundational understanding of the language. Developmentally, elementary school is a critical point in a child’s life, marked by the plasticity in the young brain, making it the prime time to introduce languages. It has been proven that it is much harder to fully grasp a language if it is introduced at a later point in life, and it is for this reason that Spanish feels natural for me and my peers.

While this foundation is beyond important, high school immersion classes are responsible for the upkeep and continuation of the Spanish language, especially within this group of students. Before my sophomore year of high school, I could not recognize the amazing opportunities that the immersion program offered me and I took everything for granted. My young mind was naïve to the amazing conditions I had grown up with, and without being in immersion level classes in high school, where it was clear the bilingual advantages I had compared to my peers, I would not have continued to pursue Spanish.

Now, not a day goes by that I don’t give credit to the program for my broadened career options as well as my ability to communicate with such a large group of people. Over the summer, I worked at a restaurant, and I was proud when a Spanish-speaking DoorDash regular came in and I was his person of contact. At my university, the University of Puget Sound, I have breezed through my upper-division Spanish courses while being a student-athlete on campus. I am looking to study abroad, I am looking to teach abroad, and I can tutor my friends in the language. There are so many benefits associated with the program, and taking away the high school level immersion classes would take away from students who might not realize that they are lucky until they grow older.

Finally, the program fosters relationships and encourages diversity, and I fear that doing way with high school immersion would jeopardize this. Through the immersion classes at West, I was able to keep in contact with long-time friends who I wouldn’t see on a daily, or even weekly, basis if not for that singular class. The amount of connections made and maintained through the immersion program are unmatched. In fact, I met my lifelong best friend in kindergarten at Government Hill. We were beyond close through elementary school, and then faded in middle school. High school Spanish classes brought us back together, and I will always thank the program for bringing us together at both points in our life.

According to the School Board, Anchorage’s language immersion programs are off the table for cuts — at least for now. As an Anchorage School District immersion graduate, I am pleading that these programs not be a target for future cuts. They all have so many unique qualities that add to overall education and to the communities associated with each.

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Emily Ogilvie-Fiacco grew up in Anchorage and graduated from West Anchorage High School in 2021. She is now attending the University of Puget Sound with a target graduation date of 2025.

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