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SALT LAKE CITY — Spanish students file into Maestra Burch's Spanish class at Evergreen Jr. High to a cheerful "buenos dias!"
And that greeting sums up one of the brightest spots in Utah education. It is a "good day" for dual immersion language programs.
"DLI has been enormously successful in Utah," said Jane Hacking, co-director of the Second Language Teacher and Research Center at the University of Utah. "And with success come challenges."
Challenge numero uno is keeping up with the wave of students making their way through the program.
Right now, nearly 10 percent of Utah students are intensely studying 1 of 5 languages: Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, German and Portuguese. And as this wave of 29,000 students reaches junior high, the state is scrambling to keep up.
"We have no courses for them at the high school level after that," said Hacking.
Students and educators agree, ending intense language programs after ninth grade would be a waste.
"They need to be reading constantly in that language, be immersed in that language, because only that way will they be able to grow," said ninth-grader Michael Thompson.
Fortunately, education leaders and lawmakers recognize the problem and want to protect the investment. Utah Sen. Howard Stephenson led the effort during the last legislative session to provide $300,000 to develop college-level courses in Utah high schools.
"The experience they'll have to take a university course in high school is irreplaceable," said Sharon Gracia, Granite District world languages specialist.
College faculty and high schools will collaborate to develop and teach the classes. So once again, Utah will become a pioneer in dual immersion instruction.
Teams taking part in this next phase of the program say language skills will make Utah and Utah students a unique asset in the global business market.
"It's going to open up opportunities," said Jill Landes-Lee, director of Secondary Bridge Programs for Dual Immersion Language. "It opens up a whole economy for Utah as well as for the child."