Our Immersion Program

McDonald International School is dedicated to engaging all students in partnership with family and community to become informed, compassionate, global citizens. McDonald is a place where all children learn, grow and thrive.

Our language immersion school offers a curriculum infused with global awareness and cultural competence at every grade level. Students receive instruction for half the day in English and half the day in either Spanish or Japanese. 

Background and history

In January 2011, McDonald Elementary was selected to be a language immersion school by the Seattle Public School district. Spanish and Japanese were and still are the two language tracks offered.

Language immersion began in the 2011-2012 school year for kindergarten and first graders.  Children in second through fifth grade that year continued to receive top-notch teaching from our McDonald teachers in English. Some had foreign language exposure, but they were not part of the language immersion program. In each successive year a new class of incoming kindergarten students joined the immersion program and our language academics advanced another grade level. 

Other components of international education (not only language immersion, but a complete integrated curriculum that helps develop a global perspective) outlined by Karen Kodama, Director of International Education for SPS, was rolled out in the fall of 2012, and we became the McDonald International School.

Our international program today

Immersion is provided at every grade level, kindergarten through fifth grade. McDonald International students spend half their day learning literacy and social studies subjects in English and half their day learning math and science in their immersion language (either Japanese or Spanish).

Seattle Public Schools’ vision for International Education consists of three main areas of focus: Academic Excellence, Global Perspectives, and World Languages to develop their students' cultural and global competency. In pursuit of these areas, schools are expected to pursue innovative teaching methods, maximize the use of technology, and engage in meaningful partnerships. Download the SPS vision for International Education diagram above for a visual representation.

How does the immersion language placement process work?

15% of seats in Kindergarten and 1st Grade are set aside for native/heritage speakers. Remaining seats are assigned to students who have submitted a choice application form according to the following tie breakers: (1) siblings, (2) GeoZone, and (3) lottery. GeoZones are NOT a guarantee of assignment, but do get priority over the open lottery for students who live in the GeoZone.

Parents should return the preference form to the school office by the deadline, indicating: language preference, if child has a sibling at McDonald, and/or if the child is a fluent speaker of the language. 15% of kindergarten and first grade seats will be reserved for heritage language speakers – those students whose first language is either Japanese or Spanish. These students will be assigned to classes first.

In April, fluent speakers will be invited for a language fluency interview.

Once fluency interviews are complete the McDonald Building Leadership Team meets to assign students to either Japanese or Spanish. We do this by:

  1. Balancing the total number of spots for boys and girls in each class.

  2. The first criterion for placement is to assign students who passed the proficiency interview for fluent speakers.

  3. The second criterion for placement is to assign siblings to the same language, but only if the parents requested the same language. If not, the child is included in the lottery.

  4. The third criterion for placement is to assign by lottery: names are drawn at random, then students are assigned in the order drawn to language based on recorded preference (space permitting).

  5. Waitlist – students are put on the waitlist in the order of lottery number drawn, but ONLY if parents specifically marked the preference form requesting their child is waitlisted for the other language.

All children assigned to Kindergarten at McDonald International School by early May will receive a welcome letter and a language preference form from the school.

First grade students assigned to McDonald International School will receive the same welcome letter and preference form. Language assignment is based on space available. Waitlists will be created as per #5 above.

New students may not enter second, third, fourth or fifth grade at McDonald unless they are fluent in the immersion language. Applicants will be invited for a fluency interview.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  If my child does not speak one of the languages, but has family members who do speak the language, does that give him/her preference? 

A:  No.  Preference is only given to students who are native/near native speakers.

Q:  If my child does not speak one of the languages, but was born in a country where the language is spoken, does that give him/her preference? 

A:  No.  (See above)

Q:  If my child has had exposure to one of the languages (e.g., immersion pre-school), does that give him/her preference? 

A:  Only if they pass the language fluency interview given in June.

Q:  If my child speaks one of the languages and enters at first grade, will they be guaranteed a spot in that language? 

A:  No.  At first grade and above, language placement is based first on space available.

Q:  Is McDonald able to handle the increasing enrollment at the school? 

A:  The school is in continuous dialogue with SPS around enrollment figures and building capacity.

I don't speak the language! How can I support my child?

  • Encouraging friendships with students who speak other languages.

  • If you have a spare room in your house, host an Amity intern and you will have a live-in Native speaker! Email for more info.

  • Understanding it takes time to learn a second language. Be patient, and encourage your child to persist.

  • Attending cultural and community events with your child that reflects regions where the language is spoken. El Centro de la Raza is a great source for families in the Spanish program, and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center for families in the Japanese program.

  • Buying or borrowing books from the library in Spanish or Japanese. Books that come with CDs or other ways to listen are especially useful.

  • Listening to Spanish or Japanese music in the car or at home.

  • Developing a working relationship with your child's teacher.

  • Seeking out Spanish or Japanese summer camps and extracurricular activities to maintain language skills.

  • Making a good-faith commitment to maintain your child in the Dual Language program at least through the end of Grade 5.

  • Showing an interest in learning the language too.

  • If your child has screen time, show Spanish or Japanese cartoons and movies.

What are Immersion Assistants and Guest Teachers, and why are they so important?

An Immersion Assistant or Guest Teacher is a full-time presence in every immersion classroom. He or she is a native speaker of Spanish or Japanese. These Assistants and Guest Teachers form the Immersion Support structure vital for the success of our immersion classrooms.

The language immersion teaching model we use at McDonald is largely based on the system developed at John Stanford. There, they've demonstrated:

Immersion Support is integral to kids’ success learning Math and Science in a foreign language.

But Immersion Assistants and Interns are not funded by the school district. Parents raise this money though donations to the PTA.