Dramatic Growth of Good Thing in Public Schools

The following column, in various forms, appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota Newspapers during January, 2022.  Each of the newspapers published some of the examples cited below.


Dramatic Growth of Good Thing in Public Schools

by Joe Nathan

No, this column is not about COVID-19. There’s plenty to read and hear about that elsewhere.

Instead, this is about what one expert calls the “dramatic growth” in Minnesota of something very helpful to students. That’s the opportunity all over the state for elementary and middle school students to learn a second language via immersion. That is, taking a number of classes taught both in English and a second language.

Tara Fortune says the number of these programs has grown in Minnesota from less than 30 in 2005 to more than 90 today. She’s been working on this for 27 years, as a teacher of Spanish and German. Fortune also was director of immersion research and professional development projects at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition.

Fortune cites dozens of studies, all of which come to the same conclusion. As she puts it: “There are dramatic benefits for youngsters, starting in the elementary school, to study a second language. This is true for both those who speak English as their native language, and those who speak a different language in their home.”

Tara Fortune, courtesy of Ms. Fortune

She works closely with the Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network. She’s compiled a list of Minnesota language immersion schools, found here:

Chart courtesy of Tara Fortune and Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network

We’ll get back to the research a little later.

The good news is that a growing number of suburban and greater Minnesota districts and charters are paying attention to this research. So are families. A few examples:

Eden Prairie

Brett Johnson, senior director of communications and community relations for the Eden Prairie Public Schools, reports that the district has 954 students in grades K-8 enrolled in their Spanish immersion program.


Edina has both district and charter immersion options. The Edina Public School District has one of the state’s oldest elementary language immersion options. Mary Woitte, director of communications for the district, told me: “There are currently 665 students at the Normandale French Immersion School (grades K-5). Beginning in fall, 2022 , the district will open a new Spanish Immersion option for up to 48 kindergarten students. That will grow through elementary school.”

Emily Smith, administrative assistant with the International Spanish Language Academy, a charter public school located in Edina, told me that the school has  375 students enrolled in its K-6 program in this school year.

Chris Donofrio, office manager at the Agamim Classical Academy, another charter in Edina, explained that the school does not use an immersion model, but that it offers its 278 K-8 students opportunities to learn Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

Forest Lake

Forest Lake has both district and charter public schools offering language immersion. Steve Massey, superintendent of Forest Lake Area Schools, told me 325 students are enrolled in the Spanish iimmersion program offered in two of the elementary schools. Shannon Peterson, executive director of Lakes International Language Academy, a charter public school, explained, “We have 680 K-5 students enrolled in Chinese or Spanish Immersion, and 350 6-12 students in language immersion courses.”


Jolene Goldade, director of communications and marketing for the Hopkins Public Schools, told me: “396 students currently are enrolled in the XinXing Chinese Immersion programs, grades K-8. The Juntos Spanish Immersion program currently enrolls 119 students at K-1 and 112 at grades 7-8. The district is adding a grade each year to the elementary program, and also has courses at the high school.”


JacQui Getty, executive director of communications for the Minnetonka Public Schools, told me that there currently are 3,311 K-8 students enrolled in the districts Chinese and Spanish immersion programs.


Andrea Preppernau, Princeton Public Schools’ assessment and special programs coordinator, explained that there are 239 K-6 students enrolled in the district’s Spanish immersion program. Her own students have gone through a Spanish immersion program as well.


Cassandra Quam, assistant to the superintendent and secretary to the Board of Education of Richfield Public Schools, wrote: “Our dual language elementary school currently has 480 students enrolled, and our DLI programs at the middle school and high school are a continuation of the program for students coming out of the elementary program. Students in the DLI program at the middle school and high school take some of their classes in English with their non-DLI peers, and some of their classes in Spanish with other DLI students. The middle school currently has 240 students enrolled in the DLI program, and the high school currently has 182 students enrolled in the DLI program.”


Toya Stewart Downey, executive director of strategic communications, equity and inclusion wrote via email that 686 students are enrolled in the Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion Elementary School this school year. She also reported that “Northport Elementary School has 75 students in dual immersion, and Plymouth Middle School has 279 students in immersion.”

District 196 Rosemount, Apple Valley, Eagan District 196

Leah Hack, principal at Diamond Path Elementary School of International Studies, told me that although the school does not use the immersion approach, “We have approximately 130 students taking Chinese and 200 students taking Spanish.”

St. Louis Park Public Schools:

Matt Thomas, communications specialist for St. Louis Park Public Schools, told me the district has 528 students enrolled in its K-5 Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School.


Stillwater Area Public Schools offers the “Amigos Unidos” (Friends United) Spanish Immersion program at Lake Elmo Elementary School. Carissa Keister, director of communications for Stillwater Area Public Schools, told me that there are about 250 students, grades K-4, in the school. Language immersion will expand to K-5 in the 2022-23 school year, so they anticipate an enrollment of about 300 next fall.

St. Cloud

Tami DeLand, director of community engagement and communications for St. Cloud Area School District 742, wrote, “As on November, 2021, we have 341 K-8 students in Spanish Immersion, and 179 in Chinese Immersion.”


John Casper, communications coordinator for the Winona Area Public Schools, wrote, “We have 167 students enrolled in the Rios Spanish Immersion program, which right now is in Grades K-8.”


There are a number of district and charter elementary and middle school immersion options in Minneapolis and St. Paul, offering, for example, Dakota, French, German, Hmong, Korean, Ojibwe, and Spanish. **

I could, but won’t, fill this entire column with research. Here are two examples:

  • A 2017 summary of 32 years of research by two George Mason University professors found “high-quality, long-term bilingual programs close all of the gap after five to six years of schooling through the students’ first and second languages.” More information here.
  • Another study, published in 2017 found: “The effects of immersion programs on student test scores appeared to be similar for students who were native English speakers and those who were native speakers of other languages. … This represents roughly seven additional months of learning in grade 5 and nine additional months in grade 8.” Information here.

Fortune concluded that these programs have value beyond test scores: “Language immersion has the potential to transform a student’s world view – both language and culture. You learn more and equally valid ways of seeing the world and being in the world. I’ve experienced this personally and I’ve seen this happen with others.”

Fortunately, more and more educators and families agree.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at Joe@centerforschool change.org.


** Note – the column originally included Somali as one of the language immersion options available in at least one Minnesota district or chartered public school.  However, this was not accurate.  The author included this language because a school he is familiar with formerly had a Somali language program.  However, he learned after submitting the column that this program is no longer operating.  To provide fully accurate information as of January, 2022, Somali has been removed from this list.








Check year



Had 375 students in 2020-21 or has 375 students in 2021-22?



We don’t have papers in Winona, so I expect Keith will want to delete this one.