KELLER -- When her daughter was 2, Sherry Mackie decided to move her from a traditional day-care program to one that was immersed in Spanish.
"She was in a mother's day out program, and it just didn't feel like she was challenged," Mackie said.
Since switching her daughter, Hope, to Spanish Schoolhouse two years ago, Mackie said, the results have been astonishing.
"She came home and just started speaking," Mackie said. "This year is where I really saw the improvement. Now I can ask her, 'What does that mean?' and she will translate for us."
Spanish Schoolhouse, a private school started 12 years ago by Vicki Williams, Monica Ramirez and Josie Gerber, has 13 campuses, including ones in Arlington, Flower Mound, Coppell and Southlake. Its campuses in Fort Worth and Keller open this month.
Other schools have also seen a rise in interest in Spanish-immersion programs, mostly because of the growth of the Hispanic population statewide and locally.
Hispanics accounted for nearly two-thirds of Texas' growth from 2000 to 2010 and now constitute 38 percent of its population, according to census statistics.
Tarrant County is also seeing that growth. Latinos make up 39 percent of the population in Haltom City; 34 percent in Fort Worth; 27 percent in Arlington; and 16 percent in North Richland Hills.
"As the Latino population is increasing so rapidly, more people are exposed to Latinos and more parents want their children to benefit from the academic achievement that these programs allow," said Rossana Ramirez Boyd, senior lecturer in the College of Education at the University of North Texas. "The students benefit more academically, culturally, socially, and they are able to interact with different cultures in their communities."
Boyd said the bilingual skills children receive will also benefit them in the job market.
"A lot of the businesses are between Spanish-speaking countries and the U.S.," she said. "To be bilingual is becoming a necessity."
Spanish Schoolhouse provides an intense education to students in preschool and kindergarten while immersing them in Spanish, Williams said.
"The immersion method involves teaching preschool subjects using the Spanish language, but not actually teaching the language," Williams said. "We use the language to teach other subjects instead."
In preschool, instructors speak Spanish for five hours, five days a week, while the children participate in activities such as music, art and math. When children reach kindergarten, the routine is switched to three days of complete Spanish and two days of complete English.
"We want to prepare them for reading in the first grade," Williams said.
All classes are taught by native Spanish speakers from different countries, Williams said. Kindergarten teachers are state-certified, and preschool teachers must complete 30 hours of training and work as a teacher's aide for a year, Williams said.
Hope, now 4, started classes at the Southlake campus but will transfer to the school in Keller, where she lives, this month.
"I just think it's really going to help her in the long run," Mackie said. "It's just an amazing school and she really loves it."
A growing trend
The growth is seen in other schools, both private and public.
Carmito Spanish Preschool in Keller opened four years ago with seven students and now has 50, Director Maru Bruciaga said. Campuses in Saginaw and Flower Mound are planned, she said.
"The parents are coming to us, and they really want us to bring the programs to their town," she said.
The Fort Worth school district program is in its third year at Morningside and Burton Hill elementary schools, where classes are full.
The program started with kindergarten and first grade, and plans are to continue with the students until high school.
"It's very exciting. These little children come in with no knowledge of Spanish ... in weeks, they are writing and speaking," said Carrie Harrington, director of world languages for the district.
The Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district started its program in 2001 and offers classes at Bedford Heights and Meadow Creek elementary schools.
"We get a lot of phone calls," Bettye Edgington, H-E-B's world languages coordinator. "We always have more interest than what we have in slots."
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.