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Richland Montessori School students now getting a bilingual experience

The school offers a hand-on, individualized approach for every student, and now that will include Spanish Speaking Guides constantly immersing students in Spanish while they simultaneously learn the same lessons in their native English.

The Montessori School in Richland is now bilingual.

The school offers a hand-on, individualized approach for every student, and now that will include Spanish Speaking Guides constantly immersing students in Spanish while they simultaneously learn the same lessons in their native English.

“We’re already seeing the benefits in week two,” Head of School Ann Pilzner said.

She says the sensitive period for learning language ranges from newborns to 6-year-old children.

“If we were going to do this bilingual program it had to be with young children in that age span, so this is the perfect opportunity,” Pilzner said. “These children are ages three to six and they are ready for another language.”

“You can’t really understand the words,” said 5-year-old Charlotte, who attends the school. “Sometimes the students just watch and sometimes we have a group lesson.”

She’s not complaining. Charlotte says one of her favorite parts of the day is learning how to speak Spanish.

That brings an immeasurable amount of joy to Lee Sanchez, one of the school’s two new Spanish Speaking Guides.

“This is a blast,” she said. “I am a Montessori teacher at heart - I was trained in London and I’ve done this across the world.”

She finds the Montessori method of teaching very conducive to helping children pick up new languages quickly.

“Even if they don’t intend to use Spanish in their life, it makes their brain more flexible to learn new information in the future,” Sanchez said.

Pilzner says the school is only offering the program out of a stroke of luck. Sanchez was volunteering at the school while finishing her master’s degree. Once she was on board, the school could start the program.

“Bilingual education is something that is hard to find,” Pilzner says, “but Montessori bilingual education is really rare. We feel like pioneers bringing this to West Michigan because I don’t know of any other program like this.”

Jenny Madden has worked at the school for 12 years. She sees the potential a program like this could have on each child’s future.

“There so much going on at this stage of development anyway that it just heightens all of that much more to help them make even more connections,” Madden said. “They have such little absorbent minds right now that they’re just taking everything in.”

She also gets to learn Spanish now.

“I’m really excited to along with them and they like knowing that I don’t know it yet either,” Madden said.

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