Frequently Asked Questions

We have divided our FAQs by division. Click on the question to expand and view answers.

Immersion FAQs

1What is a language immersion education?
Language immersion is an educational model in which students learn the core curriculum in a second language, often referred to as a target language. All of the traditional subjects taught by a monolingual school—a school where only one language is spoken—such as language arts, math, social studies, and the humanities are taught in the target language.
2What is the difference between a language immersion education and taking a second language in school?
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, a target language is “all that learners say, read, hear, write, and view.” Therefore, language immersion education utilizes the target language exclusively, particularly when the students are young. The target language is not an elective added to an English-based curriculum. In addition to the use of the target language in the classroom, language immersion schools ensure that language comprehension is facilitated by a rich variety of target language-related activities both inside and outside of the classroom.
3Does the timing of a child’s entry into a language immersion program matter?
Yes. Children who enter language immersion programs at the beginning of their early childhood education display more complete target language acquisition skills. However, with some additional resources, students can successfully matriculate into a language immersion program and succeed at any age.
4Are there different language immersion models?
Yes. The Center for Applied Linguistics outlines three primary models of language immersion: Full Immersion: All or almost all subjects taught in the lower grades (K-2) are taught in the target language; instruction in English usually increases in the upper grades (3-6) to 20%-50%, depending on the program. Partial Immersion: Up to 50% of subjects are taught in the target language; in some programs, the material taught in the target language is reinforced in English. Two-Way Immersion: Two different groups of students are combined to facilitate the learning of a second language. For example, one group may be native English speakers looking to learn a target language. The second group natively speaks the target language and is learning English. Core curriculum academic instruction is integrated for both groups.
5How does a language immersion student’s cognitive ability in English and math compare to those of students enrolled in a monolingual school where only one language is spoken?
Research shows that language immersion can improve cognitive proficiency in English as well as heighten symbolic reasoning and math skills for immersion students relative to their monolingual peers. In fact, at HudsonWay Immersion School, the median percentile ranking in language arts and math for our students is 92​.
6Is language immersion education a growing trend in the United States?
Yes. Based on data collected by Studica, language immersion programs are growing in the United States and this trend is taking place against a backdrop of declining foreign language classes in monolingual schools. Available data from 1981 to 2011 shows that language immersion programs grew 94% in the United States. In contrast, a Pew Research Center survey in 2018 found, “Throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 20% of K-12 students are enrolled in foreign language classes, according to a 2017 report from the nonprofit American Councils for International Education.” That figure compares to 92% for students in Europe.

Preschool FAQs

1How have preschoolers adjusted with separation?
Students are separated from parents or caregivers through a gradual process that begins with the presence of parents but transitions them out of the classroom over time. For the first few days, students meet in smaller groups of children, and gradually the class size increases to the full class. Also, initially the classroom schedule is curtailed, and increases to the full schedule by the second week. By the second or third week nearly all children are attending full time without the presence of parents. Teachers maintain the immersion environment even during this transition.
2Do most children come in with a background in the language? If not, how can they understand what is being discussed?
Nearly 80% of our students do not have prior language exposure. Our preschool teachers are specifically trained to support students in developing their language comprehension. They do this through using total physical response, or body movements which communicate the meaning of what is being said. They teach using the theory of “multiple intelligences” which addresses the different ways in which children learn such as kinesthetic, visual, musical, spatial etc. They use closed or open-ended questions based on knowing the language level and scaffolding appropriately. The daily routine provides consistency and opportunities to practice using the language. Finally, using 6-8-week themes support the cycling of vocabulary in different contexts optimizing language development.
3How can children express themselves if they don’t have enough language?
Children will experience a silent period of several months when learning a new language. During this time children’s brains are taking in a variety of stimuli, actively watching teachers and peers. They can make their needs known through gestures. By the time they are completed with their first year, they may be able to comprehend nearly all of what a teacher is saying, respond in phrases or complete sentences, and sing songs and understand stories being read to them.
4What is the schedule and how are children engaged for the day?
Children ages 2-3 are offered the option of a half day which is from 8:30am -12:00pm or a full day from 8:30am-3:30pm. Students in the pre-K 4’s program are full day from 8:30am-3:30pm. When students arrive to school, they gently transition in centers, then have both whole group and small group experiences in centers in the target language, English, snack, outdoor recess, lunch, nap and centers and a final whole group closing and dismissal.
5What is the student to teacher ratio?
The student teacher ratio differs depending on the age of the child: It is 4:1 for the 2’s, 6:1 for 3’s and 8:1 for 4’s. Low student teacher ratios maximize opportunities for language development.
6What are some examples of the theme-based learning and how is it integrated across the curriculum?
Students will be immersed in a theme for 6-8 weeks. A theme on community, for example, may involve reading storybooks such as “Dr. Desoto”, taking part in dramatic play re-enacting a restaurant, or laundromat. Students may create a community in the block center, measure the distance between buildings in a math center, or draw a group mural of a community in art. Through exposure to essential questions week after week, children deepen their understanding and critical thinking.
7How are students developing social-emotional skills and character? Examples?
Our caring and nurturing teachers spend time getting to know each child and how best to support him or her. They promote values of kindness and empathy through modeling and discussions in class and follow it up with a positive behavior system. They also celebrate the diversity in our classes by talking about differences including race. This has been discussed in professional development as supporting healthy self-identity.
8How do we develop math skills in preschool?
Students develop a strong math foundation with the support of teachers trained in Singapore Math or Math in Focus and using manipulatives that support concrete math exploration. This school year, our Kindergarten students have well prepared math skills, with all of them assessed at Grade 1 math level.
9Does my child have to be toilet trained?
No, children do not have to be toilet-trained to attend preschool. We will work with parents to support the timing of each child for toilet training.
10What is the value of this experience if my child only attends the preschool?
A full immersion preschool experience in which 90—100% of the instruction is in the target language provides a solid language foundation for children to learn academic content in the elementary immersion program. Students who transition early to a monolingual program for elementary will likely forget the language gained, not reach the language proficiency they would have had they stayed in the program and not receive the cognitive benefit of moving to giftedness which we see if students staying 4+ years in our program. Immersion is a long-term commitment with students transferring to another ongoing school, usually for Grade 6 or 9.

Elementary FAQs

1At what grades can a child join the program without a prior background in the language?
HWIS has successfully transitioned students into HWIS starting in any of the elementary years. Often the summer will be a good time to prepare the student with individualized tutoring. The student joins the immersion class and may be pulled out for additional tutoring as needed. Classmates support each other during the transition. Teachers estimate that midway through the year a new child may understand about 50% of what is being said, but by the end of the year, that figure may be 80-90%.
2Is there a lag in English proficiency?
HWIS has not seen a lag in English proficiency in the early elementary years likely due to the small class sizes and flexible grouping enabling individualized instruction. English teachers are very efficient with their time and use resources and stories which are also taught in Spanish or Mandarin. A recent Rand study on dual language immersion students controlled for income showed that 5th graders outperformed monolingual students by 7 months, and 8th graders outperformed by 9 months – nearly a full year ahead of monolingual peers. Students in immersion develop metalinguistic awareness which is a knowledge of how language work. HWIS ERB results corroborate these findings.
3How can students do well on standardized assessments if most of the time the subjects are taught in the target language?
Assessments begin in Grade 3, and students take the ERB for language arts and math in English, and the Avant assessment in the target language (Mandarin or Spanish). Students in the elementary years, depending on the grade, are taught all of the core subjects (language arts, math, science and social studies) in the target language. Math and English language arts are also taught in English during alternating weeks. Students learning the content in both languages often benefit from hearing the instruction taught in both target language and English. ERB and Avant results show that HWIS students meet or exceed the norm for language arts and math as well as language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing as compared norms.
4How are we celebrating diversity and addressing race issues?
The student body is approximately 70% students of color defined as part Asian, Latino or African American. This diversity is celebrated through the study of culture and language, as well as through meaningful discussions on race. During both the August and October in service trainings, discussions were held which promoted awareness of white privilege and outlined strategies to support all students equally.
5What is the student to teacher ratio?
The student teacher ratio differs depending on the age of the child: It is 4:1 for the 2’s, 6:1 for 3’s and 8:1 for 4’s. Low student teacher ratios maximize opportunities for language development.
6What are some examples of the theme-based learning and how is it integrated across the curriculum?
Students will be immersed in a theme for 6-8 weeks. A theme on community, for example, may involve reading storybooks such as “Dr. Desoto”, taking part in dramatic play re-enacting a restaurant, or laundromat. Students may create a community in the block center, measure the distance between buildings in a math center, or draw a group mural of a community in art. Through exposure to essential questions week after week, children deepen their understanding and critical thinking.
7How are we developing skills of problem-solving and critical thinking in various subject areas?
HWIS uses essential questions and project-based learning to support problem-solving and critical thinking. This enables teachers to probe deeper and extend the lesson based on student interest. In selecting best of breed curriculum, critical thinking and problem-solving were reasons that Singapore Math for example was chosen.
8How are we developing character in elementary students?
Each month one value such as respect, or kindness is highlighted during our student assembly. Each day during the month a student can recognize a fellow student for acts of kindness which are broadcast to the entire school during morning announcements. Students also produced a kindness chain by writing specific acts of kindness of fellow students which when linked together formed a chain that stretched across the entire school. Positive character development is supported through the use of a positive behavior intervention system (PBIS). We also support parents with frequent webinars on topics such as “Raising Kind Kids”.
9How are parents expected to support their child with homework?
Most of our students (80%) do not come from households that speak the language at home. We do not expect parents to help the child complete the homework. In fact, it is preferable that the parent communicate the issues the child may be having so that the teacher can adjust the lessons to ensure that the materials is learned. Homework is a reinforcement of the content taught in class and is a good way for teachers to assess how well the material is understood. Also, by not being able to help, the child is developing the important skills of self-reliance, independence and communication.
10In the Mandarin program, are characters taught in simplified or traditional form?
Characters are taught in simplified form which is what is used in mainland China. This is not only the dominant form in the world compared to traditional, it is used by our teachers who mostly come from China, and likely to be what is encountered during trips abroad. We expose students to the traditional form of characters starting in 4th grade so that they have an understanding of the differences, and the evolution of characters which completes their understanding and appreciation of Chinese literacy.

Middle School FAQs

1How are students who have come into the accelerated language track doing? 
We have had several students come into Grade 6 with little or no prior exposure to the language. At first, they may only understand part of the subject matter, but they quickly learn since they are immersed in the language. Expectations for these students are different and over time they develop confidence in their abilities. English language arts, math and science are taught in English so integrating with current students in these subjects helps ease the transition. By the end of the 8th grade these students can be expected to be fluent and able to move into AP level classes in Grade 9 or 10 and earn a Global Seal of Biliteracy.
2How does the curriculum compare with that of other private or public middle schools?
The curriculum for grades 6-8 is developed in accordance with the same core content standards as used in other top tier independent schools. Students can move at an individualized pace in math with students often 1-2 years ahead of what is taught in traditional schools. For English language arts, students use the Socratic method to discuss and analyze literature across different genre and Readers and Writers workshop to develop writing skills in argument, informative and narrative writing.
3How does the schedule work and what topics are taught in English vs. The target language?
In middle school, students receive about 40% of instruction, which are language arts, and humanities in the target language. Some electives may also be taught in the target language. For example, Spanish students in grade 6 are taking a journalism elective in which they are learning about the journalistic process and creating their own bilingual newspaper.
4What clubs and other activities are helping students to develop interests?
In a typical school year, there are after school activities such as robotics, chess, third language, math club, spelling bee, karate taking place after school hours in which students can explore interests outside of subjects taught during the day. Though this year they have been put on hold due to the pandemic, we expect to resume these activities the following year.
5What level can they achieve in the second language and how can this help them?
Students who have completed the elementary program and assessed in the spring of their 5th grade year are typically scoring at intermediate mid to intermediate high levels for Mandarin and Spanish which may correlate to a 4 or 5 on the AP exam. We expect students who continue on through middle school to score at advanced low/mid by the end of Grade 8.
6What high schools and colleges have our students ex-missioned to?
Students who attend HWIS and choose to ex-missions after being in the program for 6-9 years typically get into their first-choice independent school. HWIS NJ students have been accepted to Newark Academy, Pingry, Kent Place, Morristown-Beard, and Montclair-Kimberly Academy as well as K-8 schools in the area. HWIS NY students have been accepted to Brearley, Chapin, Spence, Riverdale, Trinity, Horace Mann, UNIS, Speyer Legacy, Friends Seminary to name a few.
7How is being in a smaller social environment helpful to students?
We see that students in our program develop very strong friendships due to small class sizes. They develop strong teamwork skills because unlike that in a large classroom, students have to learn to work with each personality. There is training on communication, resolving conflict and accepting of others. We hear from students who have left HWIS that the transition to other environments have been smooth.
8How can curriculum be delivered in a mixed grade class?
In some of the classes, we have students from two grades together in one classroom such as Grade 4 and Grade 5. Teachers are able to differentiate by teaching the same unit such as Colonial America and applying a broad rubric of expectations which encompass the goals of each grade. The classroom variation we see may be similar across two grades that a large classroom may see in one grade where there are 16-18 students.
9What are the plans for the service learning projects?
A unique aspect of the HWIS experience is for students in Grades 7 and 8 to spend 10 days during spring break visiting the country where either Mandarin or Spanish is spoken as a native language. During this time students will work on a meaningful service project in which they will work with local, learning content and using the language.
10How will the school support ex-missions for students in middle school?
HWIS will provide a consultant to work with each student beginning in the spring of Grade 7 to identify a list of schools which would be a good fit for that child, provide information to parents on the process, and support the student individually with aspects of the application such as interview preparation etc. Our goal is to support students interested in continuing to either independent or public high schools.