By Aileen Passariello-McAleer, Co-founder of Mama-Lingua,
An Interview with Marytere Ciccone, Co-Founder and Program Creator of INIC International Immersion Center
INIC International Immersion Center is a Spanish-immersion preschool in Austin, Texas. The school’s founder, Marytere Ciccone, has more than 20 years of experience in early childhood education and professional development for teachers. She opened INIC in 2012.
Marytere Ciccone’s career began in Mexico, where she worked with children with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, ADHD, ADD and language delay. When she moved to the United States, her interest in language development broadened. Here in the U.S., Marytere wanted to raise her own children in a bilingual environment, but discovered a lack of resources for bilingual education. At the same time, she observed a loss of language and culture in her new community, where Spanish was not being fostered at home, within the schools or in the community at large.
From her research and experience in education and curriculum development, Marytere knew that the earlier children are exposed to language, the better the results. As recent studies have shown, young children are wired to learn any language, especially from 0-3 years of age. Pathways that are created during this period of rapid growth continue to develop over a lifetime, and so do the chances of successful language acquisition.
“Teaching children a second language early in life is essential to brain stimulation,” says Marytere. “A second language builds brain circuits and has a major impact on overall cognitive development, logical processes and mathematics.” In an effort to take advantage of this prime period of development, and in response to the need for formal Spanish education for children within Austin, Marytere opened INIC.
Marytere co-authored the programs used in the INIC curriculum, which are based on research that shows neurological development is optimal when there’s interactivity between the right and left sides of the brain. Since each hemisphere is responsible for different processes, the curriculum ensures that children engage in multisensory activities so that whole-brain integration can occur. In early childhood education, this takes the form of integrated sensory, motor and linguistic stimuli. The curriculum is staged to meet the needs of children from 0-6 years of age, and materials are selected according to individual development.
In addition to its intensive Spanish immersion curriculum, INIC offers students an introduction to Mandarin. The school also offers Spanish-language summer camps and extracurricular activities, with instruction in swimming, soccer and gymnastics. For Marytere, parental involvement is crucial. “You get better results when parents are involved,” she says.
While Marytere has met her community’s need for a high quality Spanish language immersion preschool, many parents want to know what to do after INIC. For her part, she’s had success with AISD’s Becker Elementary School and Sunset Valley Elementary School. Her children are enrolled in the schools’ Two-Way Dual Language program, where they study in both English and Spanish. And while Marytere recognizes that every family may not have access to similar offerings, parents who give their children an early start in a second language give a gift that (science shows) lasts a lifetime.