How this Lexington school is taking learning a language to a whole new level


Maxwell Elementary in Lexington has been a Spanish immersion school since 1990. Photo by Rick Childress

Sierra McLean

Students who come into college usually don’t have a lot of experience with a foreign language. High school students are required to take two years and nothing else.

One Lexington school has taken this process a few steps further. Maxwell Spanish Immersion Elementary School, located a few blocks from UK’s campus, has made learning a foreign language the norm for students. At Maxwell, students can learn math, science and other elective courses in Spanish.

“Our students spend half of the day learning in English and half of the day learning in Spanish,” said Robert Crawford, the principal at Maxwell. This is his first year as principal. Crawford was previously a Spanish teacher in Louisville, Kentucky.  

Maxwell is considered a one-way immersion model and has been since 1990. Most students at Maxwell speak English at home. According to Crawford, only about 20 percent of students speak Spanish at home.

After attending Maxwell, students who wish to continue with the program go to Bryan Station Middle School and then go on to graduate from Bryan Station High School. 

Abraham Prades, a Ph.D. student at UK and a Teaching Assistant for Hispanic Studies, said that he has taught students who went through the entire immersion program.

“We do have some students who have articulated through the entire program and are now apart of the Patterson International program here at UK,” Crawford said about students who graduate and go to UK.

“I’ve had some students from UK, who did the immersion program, come back to Maxwell and volunteer there,” Prades said of UK students who credit the program.

To get into Maxwell for kindergarten through first grade, students must go through a lottery process. Parents fill out the application online and then the Fayette County Public Schools district conducts the lottery. Once a student’s name is pulled, they can either accept or reject the position. There is currently a wait list for K-1.

After first grade, students who want to participate in the program must take a proficiency test. According to Crawford, they must have enough proficiency in the Spanish language to be successful in the program.

“Research proves that knowing two languages helps development,” Prades said about the benefits of the immersion programs.

There are three other elementary schools in Lexington that participate in the immersion program. Liberty, Cardinal Valley and Northern all have the immersion program, but only a select group of students go through the program. Maxwell is the only elementary school that has all students going through the program.

“We prepare students to interact with both languages. That’s the whole idea of immersion—that the transfer of knowledge occurs,” Crawford said.

Crawford has high hopes for the immersion program.

“One of the things that we would love to see is individuals who would articulate through the program and then come back to be teachers here. That would be a nice cycle we would like to see.”

According to Maxwell’s website, there are plenty of benefits to the immersion program, including giving students head starts when it comes to language requirements in college.

“To have an immersion program at college…” Prades said. “I would love to see that. I don’t know how many students would sign up for that.”