Moms Talk: Language Immersion Programs

Meet Wheaton Patch's Moms Council and discuss MCPS' immersion programs.

Moms Talk is a new feature on Wheaton Patch that is part of a new initiative on our Patch sites to reach out to moms and families. 

Wheaton Patch invites you and your circle of friends to help build a community of support for mothers and their families right here in Wheaton. 

Each week in Moms Talk, our Moms Council of experts take your questions, give advice and share solutions. 

Let's meet them -

Cassandra Caverly

Cassandra Caverly is a Maryland transplant from Michigan, the Great Lake State. Cassandra graduated from Boston University a long time ago and then after a short stint in automotive advertising she decided law school would be the next best step. She graduated from Howard University School of Law in 2005 and has been practicing in the District of Columbia ever since. Cassandra and her husband have lived in downtown Wheaton for the past few years and they are both looking forward to the pending development of the area. She is expecting her first child this summer.

Leah Kocsis

Mother of one-year old Alexandra with another due in July, Leah Kocsis is an active musician in the area. She teaches piano and is the artistic director of the new Southern Montgomery County Orchestra, SoMoCo. Leah grew up in Connecticut and moved to Maryland twelve years ago. She's lived in Wheaton for six years and has been married to her Pennsylvania-born husband for seven. Besides music and mothering, Leah enjoys cooking, reading, and crafts.

Kristen Walker Painemilla 

Kristen has been a Wheaton resident for the past eight years. She is married and the mother of two boys  (16 months and four years). She loves exploring Wheaton and the surrounding areas with her family, especially local restaurants and farmer’s markets.  In her working life, Kristen is Vice President at Conservation International and Executive Director of CI’s Indigenous & Traditional Peoples Program. In October 2010, she published the book "Indigenous Peoples and Conservation: From Rights to Resource Management." She serves on several boards including the Equator Initiative, the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force and the Chol-Chol Foundation.

Bridget Hanes

Bridget Hanes is a proud new mommy of an eight-month-old boy. A native of Western Massachusetts, she has called the D.C. metro area home for almost nine years. She and her husband have lived in Wheaton for just over a year and are enjoying exploring the neighborhood and meeting people in the community. Bridget works part-time in a law firm in downtown D.C. but hopes to someday work in a position where she can use her recently-acquired MPH in maternal and child health. She loves trying new foods, overdosing on dark chocolate goodies, baking, traveling, playing tennis and all things nature. 

Jessica McFadden

You've probably seen Jessica around Wheaton Patch already. She's our parenting columnist, sharing stories about life as a work-at-home mom in . 

Jessica also writes the popular parenting blog, A Parent in Silver Spring, serves as an editor at Nickelodeon ParentsConnect and has contributed to The Washington Post Weekend and other publications. Jessica is a mother of two and expecting a third child this spring.

A California native and U.C. Berkeley grad who came to DC in 1998 as a straight-laced U.S. Senate staffer by day, Adams Morgan bar crawler by night. She has lived in Silver Spring/Wheaton for nearly ten years.


Moms, dads, grandparents and the diverse families who make up our community will have a new resource for questions about local neighborhood schools, the best pediatricians, 24-hour pharmacies and the thousands of other issues that arise while raising children. 

Moms Talk will also be the place to drop in for a talk about the latest parenting hot topic. 

So grab a cup of coffee and settle in as we start the conversation today about a set of programs that are very popular with Montgomery County parents: school language immersion programs. Three languages are offered, at a combination of seven schools at elementary level and six at the middle school. A lottery determines who gets into the program in elementary school.

Do you have experience in going through the lottery or the immersion programs? Was it worth it? What's valuable about the programs? If you decided not to pursue immersion language programs, why not? 

Kristen Walker Painemilla February 09, 2011 at 11:21 PM
For me, the immersion programs are important as we are bringing our children up in a bilingual home and this type of program provides ongoing support and strengthening. My son will enter kindergarten next year so I have already register him in our local school and sent in my lottery form for the 3 Spanish programs although they are no all the same. Next up is going to all of the open houses!
Leah Kocsis February 09, 2011 at 11:29 PM
What amazing options MCPS offers our kids! I haven't started seriously looking into the elementary school options for our daughter, but love the thought that there are options! I know for myself I would like to be involved with my child's school so making sure the school is nearby to home would be nice.
Sandra Masone February 10, 2011 at 02:56 AM
I am a mother of three. My oldest daughter is in first grade in the French Immersion at Sligo Creek ES. My second daughter will begin kindergarten at Sligo next year in the French Immersion. My husband and I are thrilled with the immersion program. My daughter did not speak any french at the beginning of kindergarten. She is now reading and writing in french. And her accent is perfect! The faculty works impressively hard alongside consistent budget cuts to the immersion programs. If anyone is interested they should apply. If you are invited to the program and you decide it isn't right for your child, you can decline the invitation. Montgomery County needs to know there are plenty of parents interested enough to apply to the immersion programs. This is a wonderful opportunity for your children.
Kristen Walker Painemilla February 10, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Sandra, thanks for the feedback on the immersion program! As a parent just entering the process this is great feedback! I am glad you mentioned the budget cuts....this is an ongoing fear I have regarding the immersion programs. Keeping my fingers gross, now I only have to wait until May!
JustAMom February 10, 2011 at 01:24 PM
I had 2 children complete full immersion Spanish @ Rock Creek Forest. They're now in 9th & 8th grades. Benefits: Students come out of the program reading, writing & speaking Spanish very well. My children didn't continue to Westland but did enter in Spanish for Spanish Speakers Level 1 in middle school. In high school my daughter is taking Spanish Honors Level 4, which I believe is the same class she would be taking had she continued on at Westland and then BCC. Their accents are blended as they had teachers from many locations around the world & it makes for a great accent. Downside: Spanish They don't teach WHY you use which verbs or words when you speak because it's taught as a native class. They still don't like to read in Spanish for pleasure. English Parents needs to be aware that the school is NOT going to teach your child English spelling or grammar. That this is something your child is almost always going to be a little behind on or using spell check for or you tutor them. But don't panic... It all works out in the end. My children are currently in Pre IB English and Adv 8 English (a high school level English for 8th graders). When we were at RCF, they had an exchange program with teachers from Spain & this was an amazing program. Sadly, MCPS stopped this program & this did impact the quality of the program. While they still have native speakers, it's just not the same as having these young teachers from Spain.
Cassandra Caverly February 10, 2011 at 02:43 PM
I think this is a great program, I wish it were available to all students in Montogomery County. I wonder if there are private schools in the county that offer language immersion to all students.
Taylor Kate Brown February 10, 2011 at 02:46 PM
Thanks for your comment JustAMom - good to hear from parents and students who have gone through a program, lining up the pros and cons. I had no idea there used to be an exchange program - I imagine that would add a great cultural learning experience as well.
Margy February 10, 2011 at 02:50 PM
I have 3 children in the French Immersion program at Sligo Creek. We have loved it. The teachers are wonderful, and all three of my kids -- even my first grader -- speak French. It is amazing to see their transformation. I agree with JustAMom that they do not get much English grammer, but it has not been an impediment for my kids when they are reading and writing in English. As they go forward in the system, I am confident that they will catch up quickly. Any extra help we have to give them is totally worth it to have them speaking another language so effortlessly. I wish there were more slots in the county for children in immersion programs. Unfortunately, the regular public school system does not offer languages at an elementary level unless children are in the immersion programs. That is such a shame because those elementary years are the best time to learn a language. These have been very tough time for the county budget and the immersion programs have taken their share of cuts. But I agree with Sandra that the faculty have been excellent in adapting to the changes, and there is very little turnover among the staff. I can't believe these programs are available in our county for free!
Jessica McFadden February 10, 2011 at 03:32 PM
The feedback from Sandra, JustAMom and Margy is incredible! I know that parents of children interested in applying will benefit from your insights so much. I am sending this link to all the families of kids in preschool in MoCo that I know!
JustAMom February 10, 2011 at 08:33 PM
Cassandra, It is sort of available to all MCPS students, via lottery. It depends upon how many of the 26–52 seats are available at each location each year. Siblings of students currently in the immersion program in Grades K–4 are given preference and get first available seats. A word about Wait Lists: Your child could be on the waiting list and actually get in as a number of parents apply to ALL of the "special" schools and might get in to 2 of them and then have to decline one. That means a Wait List child gets in. Or a family moves over the summer. Wait List children are allowed to start the program up until January of that school year. Sometimes a spot opens up say in December on the Wait List and families are offered the opportunity to start the program and then change their mind about being in the program as their child has already started in Kindergarten in their home school & made friends & is doing well & they have after school care all set up & such. This means the school could go a few numbers down the Wait List to finally find a child to fill the open slot. Applying After Kindergarten: A child can also start in 1st grade via lottery and 2-5th grades via language proficiency assessment and space available. This also means you can apply to transfer from a partial immersion school to a full immersion school. Note that Potomac's Chinese and Burnt Mill's Spanish are available to transfer by lottery only for seats not filled by local students.
JustAMom February 10, 2011 at 08:49 PM
Private Language Immersion Schools: French Lycée Rochambeau (in Bethesda) http://www.rochambeau.org/ German German School Washington, D.C (in Potomac) https://www.dswashington.org French or Spanish Dual Instruction (in DC) http://www.wis.edu/index.aspx
Michele Robin February 15, 2011 at 04:38 AM
Greetings from Southern California. I have a kindergartener at a Spanish immersion school here and she is loving it. The school is El Marino Language School, the first public immersion school in the country, so we have a long history; there is also a Japanese immersion program. It starts at 90% of instruction in the target language and levels out at about 50-50 in the later grades. As a parent and advocate of language immersion, I would like to invite you to check out the new website, LanguageImmersionToday.com. This, with time (we hope) will be a resource and social network for moms (and dads) interested in dual language education. Please check it out. El Marino Language School is also hosting a symposium about language immersion in mid-May. The rock stars of immersion will be giving talks and answering questions. There is more info on the site. - Mama V
ilkunta March 23, 2011 at 05:40 AM
@JustAmom: I wouldnt reccommend Lycee Rochambeau. 1st is the extremely expensive cost. And driving to Bradley Blvd every day was a chore. But more importanlty, if French isnt spoken @ home the kids will be @ a GREAT HUGE GIGANTIC disadvantge. Most of the teachers are from France and most of the children are diplomatic children and native French speakers. EVERYTHING is in French. If you dont have someone speaking French to you @ home dont go to Lycee Rochambeau. And the education pace is very intesive bc it is how it is in France, so you have to make sure you support your kid.
GuidanceGirl January 03, 2012 at 08:55 PM
My five year old has shown a great interest in all things French but my husband and I are not fluent (daughter has an aunt and uncle who are). Will my daughter be at a disadvantage in the French immersion program because French is not spoken in our home?
Tom Termini January 18, 2012 at 08:24 AM
When i applied for my daughter i was told, if you speak the language of the immersion program at home, you are disqualified from that language program's lottery. The idea is that the children learn from immersion, not as a crutch or non-native English speakers.
Tom Termini January 18, 2012 at 08:25 AM
When i applied for my daughter i was told, if you speak the language of the immersion program at home, you are disqualified from that language program's lottery. The idea is that the children learn from immersion, not as a crutch or non-native English speakers. My three kids have done well, with NO help language-wise fom their mom or me.
Kristen Walker Painemilla January 19, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Tom, Just saw your post. I am not sure that this information is correct. There is no requirement regarding the language immersion program. My son was just accepted and started in January at Rolling Terrace. He was wait listed and the list runs mid January before the lottery process starts again. His class is mixed with a few student who come from a bilingual background and others who don't have any language background.
Robyn Duarte January 24, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Hello Kristen, may I ask what was your son's lottery number. I am curious to know how far into the list are students accepted into the program. Thanks.
Kristen Walker Painemilla January 25, 2012 at 04:42 PM
@ Robyn, We applied for all three Spanish programs. In one we were 181, another 130 something and the other 35. I called in late August to see if things had moved around in the list and they had. I was told that my son move to number 12/13. I call again in Ocotber and was told that he was number 4. We got the call the week before the Winter break that the spot had opened up. The list runs through January. I had consulted other parents on the immersion program listserve regarding the wait lists in general and many said if your number was 50 or below there was a possiblity but it depended on the year as well. I hope this is useful.
Robyn Duarte January 25, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Thank you Kristen, I hope your son enjoys the program!
Catherine Engstrom July 17, 2012 at 12:49 PM
My son will be entering kindergarten for 2012/13 school year. I applied for all seven programs. His lowest number was #27 for Partial Chinese Immersion. He moved to #15 on the wait list in June when I called. And now he is #10 when I called this month. Does anyone know if he will get in before the start of the school year?
Robyn Duarte October 31, 2012 at 09:19 PM
@Kristen or any other parents have positive or negative feedback about the partial immersion programs, such as fluency level accomplished, instruction in non-spanish clesses, etc.? Any feedback about Burnt Mills in particular?
Gaby February 04, 2013 at 11:47 PM
I am really considering entering my daughter in the Spanish Immersion program @ Rock Creek Forest, however my concern is if everything is in Spanish when will she learn English? She will be attending Kindergarten this year and want to make sure I'm laying a solid foundation for the years to come, I don't want her to be behind in grammar and other English language skills.
JustAMom February 05, 2013 at 07:28 AM
@Gaby As I wrote about earlier, we left the program after 5th grade, yet they continued with Spanish for Spanish Speakers in MS. My 2 girls are now in 10th & 11th grades. The 11th grader is taking IB Eng, IB Math, AP Euro & AP Psych. She took APUSH (9th grade) and AP NSL (10th). The 10th is in pre-IB Eng & Honor NSL, Hon Bio, Hon Alg 2. The 11th grader is an avid reader (about 4/5 books per week) & we still see major gaps in her vocab, spelling & decoding skills. An example I give happened to a classmate of hers back in 8th grade. She was taking a standardized test and had one of those questions where they give you two words "blank is to blank" and one of the words was "facial" and she had not seen that word before. She decoded it in Spanish & got facil "easy." She knew it wasn't correct given the other word & her mom said she felt stupid for not knowing it & not being able to decode it. I asked both of my daughters if they knew it or been able to figure it out & they said, "no." While they still have holes in their grammar & vocabulary, the 11th grader apparently did well enough on her PSAT that she's getting mail & emails from about 5-10 colleges a day. The 10th grader who does NOT love to read...that is another story. She is like any other child, her verbal skills are just not the same as others who love to read. So, it will really depend more upon what type of child YOUR child ends up being. If they love to read, they will do much better. Hope that this helps.
Roxanne Charles April 16, 2013 at 09:29 AM
Hi Cassandra, There are private schools - Bethesda International School seems to be one - that offer Spanish immersion in the county.
Roxanne Charles April 16, 2013 at 09:35 AM
My daughter is in the 3rd Grade at Rolling Terrace elementary. Things were fine until the curriculum 2.0 got introduced. The program is only partial immersion and the curriculum requires more advanced language skills to understand and solve multi-step problems. So the Spanish doesn't seem to be enough to accomodate that level of work. The Math and Science are taught in Spanish, but since Spanish is not taught as a subject, it has created gaps for my daught. I'm now seeking private Spanish immersion to help her with understanding her Math and Science.
Roxanne Charles April 16, 2013 at 09:39 AM
Does anyone know whether there's a Saturday or evening Spanish immersion program available in Montgomery County? I need to supplement my daughter's partial immersion in Spanish at Rolling Terrace.
Leigh May 03, 2013 at 08:16 PM
If my son is #13 and #16 on two waitlists, can anyone tell me the chances he will get in?
Mykel June 10, 2013 at 04:54 AM
I'm moving to the area from Chicago at the end of the summer and have a 19 month old daughter that has been in spanish immersion since she was 8 months old. I wanted to know if there are area spanish immersion child care and preschool programs.
Costco Gas Man June 10, 2013 at 09:53 AM
My 3 year old grand daughter started saying things my spouse and I did not understand. She started this around 2 1/2. Then we realized she was learning Chinese from the NickJr channel. Having said that I'm not sure what the advantage is of children learning a foreign language. I took French and Latin in high school which was required. It didn't help me a bit in my career in life. You'd be better off teaching them programming languages.


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