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Thoughts on Language Immersion Inclusion

Zeeland Christian Mandarin Immersion Mandarin immersion class at Zeeland Christian School

As a presenter, it’s common to be asked to speak about a topic that is comfortable and considered to be an area you know well. At the Christian Educator’s Association convention this year, however, they specifically asked me to address the topic of supporting students with learning difference in language immersion classrooms. While this is an area of great interest to me, it’s also been one that represents a learning curve for myself as well as the staff at Zeeland Christian School (ZCS).

When faced with a situation like this, I quickly asked two colleagues to be my co-presenters. Janelle Sievert, the support services director at ZCS, and Jodi Pierce, the immersion director at ZCS, both agreed to stand beside me as we prepare for this event.

In meeting together, however, we have discovered something delightful. The same tools All Belong has given us for many years in looking at students who are part of traditional English classrooms are basically the same tools we use for looking at any student at ZCS.

Zeeland Christian school Spanish immersion Spanish immersion class at Zeeland Christian School

Every child has areas of strengths and struggles, and every child is an important member of the whole classroom community in sharing those gifts with others. All Belong’s “What do we see? Think? Do?” framework is the same set of words we use to think about a child who may have some lagging skills in academic areas in immersion classrooms. For example, a child who has gifts in visual memory can utilize their strengths whether the content is taught in English or Mandarin. A student who struggles with understanding patterns in English will also struggle to understand patterns in Spanish Immersion.

Using All Belong’s Evaluation Services and discovering the underlying neurodevelopment systems that may contribute to areas of strength and struggle provides great direction to the road map of “What do we do?” with and for that student. If a child struggles with higher order cognition and requires some extra supports, we will seek out a teacher assistant who can provide support in the immersion language.

Regardless of the student’s ability or chosen language immersion program, our goal is always to get to know the student most excellently and to come alongside them with whatever they need to be successful at our school.

While we will provide many examples of supports we have offered for more than the past decade of immersion support, we also want to come to CEA as “presenter-learners”. We hope to combine ideas from ZCS and other schools who have put some great ideas in place as we figure this out together!


Passionate about inclusive education? Make a contribution to All Belong to help us create inclusive communities for persons of all abilities.




Barbra J. NewmanBarbara J. Newman is the director of church services at All Belong and the director of educational support services at Zeeland Christian School.