WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – Within a classroom, at Royal Legacy Christian Academy there are all the things you would expect but if you’re in the kindergarten, first, and second-grade classroom you might be confused unless you speak Spanish.
The school is now in its second year and continues to teach the youngest grades completely in Spanish.
“This isn’t a Spanish class, this is kindergarten, first, and second grade, it’s just taught within Spanish,” said RLCA co-founder and teacher Kendall Helmer.
Students refer to Helmer as “maestra” which means teacher in Spanish. Helmer immerses her students completely in the Spanish language, using the “Early Total One Way” method.
“For the first two to three days, I’ll put on the English hat to basically signal that this is a really special circumstance that I’m speaking in English. When I give an instruction for the very first time that I think needs to be in English, then I’ll put that English hat on, but that should only last a few days,” said Helmer.
When KWWL observed the class, the students weren’t fans of the “English hat,” often booing or chanting for Helmer to remove the hat.
“It’s like immersion on steroids,” Principal Dr. Amber Robinson who recalls when a student made her believe the immersion class was effective.
“She was mimicking her but it was real language. ‘Sit down, don’t do that, and everybody listen up,’ so she was making fun of Maestra Helmer but in full language. This was very early in the school year, so from that point, I was like ‘this is the real deal,’” said Dr. Robinson.
“I did think that it would be too much or overwhelming but as the school went on he was just amazing. He spoke English and Spanish, so it was like ‘this is no breeze,’” said Britni Perkins who has a son in the program.
She and other parents say they thought the immersion could give their kids a leg up.
“I think that by having them immersed earlier will allow them to be very fluent in the language and understand some of the nuances of speaking those languages,” said Warren Wortham who also has a student in the program.
Helmer believes the program enhances student’s overall learning skills.
“It only adds extra skills, work their brains in different ways, it closes achievement gaps, helps struggling readers. The research says there are only benefits and there are many benefits,” said Helmer.
The Royal Legacy Christian Academy stems from humble roots. Two years ago, co-founders Chassidi Martin and Kendall Helmer were homeschooling their kids, eventually tutoring them and other kids within a church. It wasn’t long before friends were asking them if they could start a school.
Most of the school’s funding is donation based and comes from the community, roughly 90%.
Students’ tuition is determined on a sliding scale, hoping to create a private education that’s also affordable.