When Four Points resident Esmeralda Estep opened Spanish immersion preschool The Ivy International School in 2009, she said parents asked her if the facility was a school for only Hispanic children.
“People were confused about the program,” she said. “I wondered if Austin was ready for this.” Estep said her students spend their day speaking and hearing only Spanish.
Despite not advertising her program, increased enrollment will force Estep to relocate her program into a 10,000-square-foot school building in November, almost doubling her current 5,500-square-foot center, she said.
Barbara Kennedy, a professional development specialist at the Center for Applied Linguistics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to language and culture, said the number of childrens’ dual-language programs are indeed increasing across the country.
Baby brain power
Kennedy said the growth can be tracked to more research being done that shows an educational advantage for children who learn more than one language.
According to recent research papers cited on Brain Connection—a website dedicated to how people learn—positive cognitive gains are associated with learning a second language in childhood. Being bilingual also fosters classification skills, concept formation, analogical reasoning, visual-spatial skills, creativity and other cognitive gains, Brain Connection states.
“Children who know more than one language can manage situations better and are better at decision-making,” said Juan Alonso, co-founder of Linguistica Spanish Immersion Center.
Along with Ricardo Ayala, Alonso opened the Bee Cave school in January, patterning its curriculum after a school program that was developed in his native Mexico more than four decades ago.
Estep said people are now realizing the benefits for children who gain bilingual skills. She said that most of the children in her preschool are from non-Spanish speaking homes.
“Parents are realizing that not only do these children have an advantage [being bilingual]as adults in the workplace, but studies show they test better and have higher IQs,” she said. “Every year we make our curriculum a little more challenging because these kids are so inquisitive. Even the 2-year-olds are a grade ahead academically.”
West Austinite Christina Folger enrolled her 3-year-old son Luka in Preescolarte’s preschool program. She said Luka previously attended a Spanish-speaking day care, and she wanted to capitalize on the language ability her son had already acquired.
“Having that language experience at a young age is important to his brain development,” Folger said.
Becoming global citizens
Folger, who taught students abroad, said the cultural awareness Luka gains from a Spanish immersion program is beneficial.
“[Luka] is getting used to two languages,” she said. “It’s a great experience for him to be part of a different culture.”
She said she plans to find a Spanish tutor or au pair when Luka begins attending elementary school so he can continue his dual-language education.
Colombia native Monica Moreno, founder of Young People’s Workshop and a computer scientist by trade, began teaching children science, math and technology after school in the school’s West Lake Hills location. She said her students’ parents noticed her accent and asked Moreno to start Spanish classes. She said she obliged and soon found her business outgrowing its West Woods Shopping Center location.
After moving to 3640 Bee Caves Road in 2011 and expanding twice, in 2012 and 2014, Moreno opened a private kindergarten class for the 2015-16 school year as well as a second location of YPW in Northwest Hills this summer.
“In the last year I’ve seen many more programs [get started],” she said. “We are in a global community. Not only do we need to understand languages, but we need to open our minds. It’s not only the American way.”
Linguistica has grown to 16 students as of Sept. 8, up from nine students at its initial opening nine months ago, Alonso said. The program will also include students—up to 24—who will access its after-school component through an agreement with nearby San Gabriel’s Catholic Academy, he said.
“People who surround us are entrepreneurs, and the program provides an attraction for entrepreneurial families in western Travis County,” Alonso said.
Adriana Rodriguez, owner of Austin Eco Bilingual International School, said the growth of the Hispanic population has prompted parents to want their children to be global citizens. AEBIS, formerly Jardin de los Ninos, provides classes for children ages 3 months through kindergarten. Rodriguez opened her third location in Cypress, Texas, in July, and her Austin school has grown from 20 students in 2007 to its current 70 students, she said.
“We want to give [children]the advantage—to be more wise culturally and to have another perspective. That’s what we need to understand each other,” Rodriguez said.
Bilingual job market
Estep said a growing number of jobs require Spanish as a second language.
Mark L. Madrid, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber signed a historic memorandum of understanding with the city of Malaga, Spain, last year.
“[The memorandum has] the goal of establishing a long-term, collaborative relationship [between Austin and Malaga]in the bilateral creative industries, the high-technology sector, advanced manufacturing, professional services and education,” Madrid said.
SecureLink, a local company focused on creating technology that aids in preventing and repairing corporate security breaches, has job openings at its Bee Cave and Costa Rica headquarters, CEO and founder Jeff Swearingen said.
As the world becomes more global, Spanish will become more important in an economic sense as manufacturing increases in Mexico, Alonso said.
“If you know two languages, you can do anything in the world,” he said.