As you walk upstairs into The Treehouse children’s ministry area at Nichols Hills United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City on Wednesday afternoons, you hear children at play. Preschoolers are singing, dancing, coloring, and chattering away, as expected.
However, the children and teachers are not speaking English, which may surprise you.
Although English is their first language, these children are working on their Spanish skills. They are enrolled in the Language Academy, launched this fall at Nichols Hills UMC.
The academy is a full-immersion after-school program for children ages 3 to 12.
These youngsters are getting an early start on their language education—and enjoying every minute of it. They participate in a highly interactive classroom infused with music, games, art and imaginative activities.
The design helps them achieve language goals, often without realizing that is what they are doing.
Parents Dionna and Fred Bierbaum enrolled their preschoolers in the Language Academy because they recognized children’s tremendous ability from an early age to acquire and maintain a second language. The Bierbaums love that the program promotes learning through an immersion experience, where language fluency is emphasized rather than simply learning key vocabulary.
“Walt loves the class and his teacher—numbers and songs are his favorite to recite—and he loves practicing outside of class with our Spanish-speaking friends,” says Dionna Bierbaum of her 3-year-old son. “For us, it has added a depth to his education which we value very much.”
The Language Academy began as a shared vision from a group of concerned members and educators of the church. The vision for the Academy is to inspire creativity and develop young people’s interest in learning new things through the innovative teaching of languages.
Melissa Nelms, director of Christian Education and Language Academies, believes fluency in a second language will open a world of opportunities for the students.
“We hope to develop skills that will mold culturally conscious individuals who can be successful leaders in the local community and the broader global community as well,” she said.
The church is excitedly preparing to offer additional classes in French and adult Spanish in the spring.
Also in spring, the Language Academy will expand to school-aged children across the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. Thanks to generous donations by church members, any child, regardless of financial status, can participate in this program. Scholarships are available, and some already have been awarded.
For more information about the Language Academy, email Ms. Nelms at email@example.com or call the church at (405) 842-1486.
This story first appeared in the Oklahoma United Methodist Contact.