PROVO -- What do the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Security Agency and first-graders at Lakeview Elementary School in Provo have in common? According to Gregg Roberts, dual language immersion specialist with the Utah State Office of Education, the answer is Portuguese.
The U.S. government has deemed Portuguese a critical, strategic language to know for the future. Lakeview Elementary is joining other schools in the state, including Rocky Mountain Elementary in the Alpine district, in preparing children now. A new dual language immersion class will start in Portuguese, with funding from a National Security Language Initiative for youth learners called STARTALK. A $124,000 grant will help with teacher training and Portuguese student training camps in the state -- $10,000 was set aside for Lakeview's camp.
"This gave us a huge bump at the beginning of this project," said Jamie Leite, Portuguese director in the dual immersion program with the USOE. Leite lives in the Lakeview neighborhood, served an LDS mission to Brazil and is married to a Brazilian. "There is a lot of interest in Portuguese with a large Brazilian population in Utah."
Leite has been at Lakeview this week helping with the STARTALK camp for kids. The week of introduction to Portuguese helps children get used to things such as class changes and full day class time prior to the whole school returning.
According to Leite, they will follow the Utah model of half the day spent speaking and learning in Portuguese, and the second half of the day speaking and learning in English.
Next week 54 first-grade students will begin their elementary portion of a 12-year commitment of dual immersion Portuguese at Lakeview. Their teacher, Lily Bueno, a recent graduate in early childhood education from Brigham Young University and a Brazilian, will never speak to them in English.
After a search for the best teacher, and several applicants, Bueno was the one selected, Leite said.
"I'm the lucky one," Bueno said. "These children are like sponges." Bueno added that she was surprised at how much students have accomplished during this week's STARTALK camp.
According to Leite, there are a good number of Spanish-speaking students in the program, which will mean there will be a lot of trilingual speakers. Also, Portuguese and Spanish have common roots.
Bueno said the first-year children will be learning the same things they would in any first grade. They are reviewing shapes, colors, numbers and basic commands. They also learn about the culture. They have learned to dance the samba and have received instruction in capoeira, a martial art that combines dance with martial arts.
"In the Portuguese class they will learn language, math, content and culture. In the English class they will learn English, literacy, math and social studies," Bueno said. Leite said the children's math class mostly will be taught in Portuguese. Students also will have science classes in both languages.
Utah is drawing a lot of attention because of its language immersion programs. According to Roberts, "We've had quite the visitor list. Fifteen states have come to observe our program and that has put us on the national radar screen."
Currently schools in Salt Lake County offer 34 dual language immersion programs with Utah County schools coming in second with 13 programs -- six in Alpine district, five in Provo district and two in Nebo district.
"We expect Utah County to grow programs," Roberts said. He added that all four elementary schools in the Park City District are dual language schools.
Roberts credits the Legislature, former governor Jon Huntsman Jr., and Gov. Gary Herbert with recognizing the value of children learning critical languages that will be important to have for the future business climate.
"We are more globally dependent on the world," Roberts said. He added that up until now Portuguese has been neglected. According to Roberts there are 30,000 Portuguese speakers in Utah -- half are native speakers, the other half are former LDS missionaries and others.