Although they had been in existence for some time, language immersion programs began to gain popularity in the United States around the turn of the millennium. A big shift also occurred at that time: from programs focused on English as a Second Language to curriculum that aims to provide enrichment and language opportunity cross-culturally.

These students immersed in second languages beginning in kindergarten or early elementary school are now growing up, presenting a challenge to high schools to provide stimulating curricula to such fluent speakers. Such was the case for Calvin Christian High School in Grandville, Michigan, which approached Calvin University for help.


“They were wondering what to do when their Spanish immersion students become juniors and seniors,” said Dwight TenHuisen, Calvin Spanish department professor and chair. “They don’t have appropriate coursework for that level of Spanish competency, and they aren’t staffed to develop a program.”

“What we’re trying to do is reach out and offer a Calvin education to broader and wider audiences.”

Thus providing impetus for Calvin’s new Spanish Immersion Program, designed specifically for high schoolers who are fluent in Spanish. Beginning in 2020, students will be able to earn a minor in Spanish at Calvin along with a semester’s worth of college credit before they graduate from high school.

Since beginning the partnership with Calvin Christian, Calvin University has reached out to other schools in west Michigan that are approaching the same dilemma with their immersion students.


“There is a real need in this area,” said TenHuisen. “West Michigan jumped onto the immersion initiative early on, and now a lot of schools are having to figure this out.

“We’ve been reaching out to local schools so that we can provide a solution; we can meet their needs and invite their students into
the Calvin community.”

The high school students will take classes at Calvin alongside university students. The program will culminate with a three-week interim in a Spanish-speaking country for the high school students only.

TenHuisen believes the program will also benefit university students. “This allows us to expand our curricular options,” he said. “With more students taking classes, we are able to offer our students courses like History 151 [“History of the West and the World”] taught in Spanish, for example.”


The program also allows for Calvin to build partnerships with the hosting high schools in places like Mexico, Spain, Peru, and Honduras, where the university already has relationships with colleges and universities.

“We’re hoping this will lead to exchange opportunities for their English immersion students to study here at Calvin,” he said.


The trend of students coming out of immersion programs is straight upward, TenHuisen said. “In the next couple of years, we see about 15–18 students per school, but in five to six years the number will be more like 25–35 per school.

“The trend is fascinating, and it says really good things about the west Michigan community and what they are trying to do,” said TenHuisen. “And students can profit greatly from what we have to offer by having us step into that need and doing it well. What we’re trying to do is reach out and offer a Calvin education to broader and wider audiences.

“We’re excited about the possibility and opportunity to rethink almost everything from what we teach to what the student body here looks like. If there’s anything that matches Calvin’s goals to offer a global education and expand initiatives to reach more diverse audiences, this is it.”

For more information, see or contact the Calvin Spanish department,