Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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July 17, 2013

A taste of immersion learning

Kokomo students get hands-on lessons in Costa Rica, England

Ninth-grader Alexis Warr entered a University of Costa Rica classroom more than a month ago to learn Spanish from a teacher who spoke no English and liked to give out quizzes — even on the first day of class.

“It was intimidating,” she said on a recent morning. “I thought it was going to be like our Spanish class here.”

Warr just graduated from Central Middle School in Kokomo. A group of students from there and a group from Kokomo High School just spent two weeks in San Jose, Costa Rica, immersing themselves in the Spanish language and culture to earn high school credit.

Meanwhile, a group of eighth-graders from Central Middle School spent two weeks in Sunderland, England, studying at Biddick Academy and learning about England’s history.

These new exchanges are part of the International Baccalaureate program in Kokomo School Corp. The rigorous curriculum, which officials say is growing in popularity here, requires schools to teach students to accept and understand cultures different from their own.

“That’s not a simple process to do in Kokomo,” said KHS principal Mike Sargent. “That’s a big reason for the exchanges.”

Students in Costa Rica spent three hours of every day learning Spanish at the university — no easy task considering the teacher spoke no English.

“She really helped us at first by playing lots of charades and hand games,” student Demitria Novinger said. “Later on, it became easier to figure out what she was saying.”

She didn’t go easy on her students, though. Kids complained she gave them a quiz on their first day. They were tasked with describing themselves in Spanish.

Students said they breathed a sigh of relief every afternoon when they studied at an International Baccalaureate school in San Jose. Students there were required to be trilingual, so they spoke only English through most of their classes.

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