Student’s Spanish skills at crash scene show value of a bilingual education

For years, Hayden Bruce has been learning a second language in Zeeland Christian School’s Spanish immersion program.  

The eighth grader recently had an opportunity to put her Spanish skills to use helping her dad, Zeeland Township Fire Chief Brock Bruce, at the scene of a crash. 

In early December, her father was driving Hayden to school but was detoured to help respond to a car crash. The emergency crew was struggling to understand an injured Spanish-speaking passenger.  

Hayden’s dad brought her to the passenger hoping that she would be able to use her Spanish skills to translate. Hayden was able to successfully translate for firefighters and police. Being able to help the passenger showed Hayden the value of being bilingual.

“I think the biggest benefit is to be able to reach more people, whether it's in helping them in an emergency situation or just building relationships with them,” she says.

Letter of thanks to school

Zeeland Township Deputy Fire Chief Josh West was so impressed by the assistance Hayden provided that he sent a letter of appreciation to Zeeland Christian School highlighting her service, noting she “greatly aided our first responders.” 

He added that Hayden “played a pivotal role in bridging the communication gap. She
proficiently relayed crucial information from the party involved to our fire and police units, ensuring that they could respond appropriately to the situation. Hayden's linguistic abilities were instrumental in maintaining a clear line of communication. 

“It is great to see students like Hayden applying their acquired skills in real-life scenarios, making a tangible difference in emergency situations,” he added. 

Hayden says she feels fortunate to be learning a second language through an immersion program.

“I loved learning another language. It was fun to be able to use my Spanish to help someone, but I also believe it will give me more opportunities in my future,” she says. 

New language becomes part of student life

At Zeeland Christian, language immersion students are taught to read, write, and converse by being constantly immersed in another language, either Spanish or Mandarin. They learn their new language in much the same way that they learn their first language, through meaningful communication. 

“I had chills hearing this story. This is language immersion education at work, tangibly and powerfully,” says Tim Paauw, middle school principal at Zeeland Christian.

“Our school is a special place,” Paauw says. “With many of our faculty from non-native English speaking countries, our students spend their school days with various languages all around. In the hallways, you may hear a range of Mandarin Chinese or Spanish dialects, sprinkled with accents and tones from around the world.” 

“And in the classrooms, specifically with our immersion programs, students are immersed in culture and tradition that reach across the globe. This environment, paired with our Christ-centered education, encourages students to step out of their comfort zone and prepares them to apply their language skills in everyday situations.” 

In the future, Hayden hopes to follow in her dad’s footsteps and become a firefighter, where her bilingual abilities will benefit her immensely.

“I think the biggest benefit is to be able to reach more people,” Hayden says. “Whether it's in helping them in an emergency situation or just building relationships with them.”

Ava Devanney is a sophomore living in Holland and a contributor to The Lakeshore. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her friends, going to the beach, and traveling. She also is a ballerina at Turning Pointe School of Dance. 
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