Academia ELZE immerses children in two languages

Nandi Solórzano (l) and Karina Elze will open Academia ELZE this summer.

The co-founders of a new dual language immersion preschool in Stevens Square want to teach children to be truly bilingual, equally strong in Spanish and English.

“I learned English and Spanish simultaneously,” said co-founder Nandi Solórzano, whose father is from Guatemala and mother is from Minnesota. “I don’t consider one to be my first or second language. That’s why I believe in immersion so much. It defined my life and my opportunities.”

Academia ELZE co-founders Solórzano and Karina Elze, who previously worked together at a Minneapolis Spanish-immersion school, said it’s common for students to be conversational in one language and stronger academically in another. Elze said it’s important that native Spanish speakers have a place to maintain their Spanish and learn English as well.

“It’s a bridge for them,” she said.

The founders also want to provide high-quality education to children of any socioeconomic status, aiming to close achievement gaps that appear as early as kindergarten. Not everyone arrives in kindergarten knowing how to hold a pencil, write their name or distinguish letters and numbers, Elze said.

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“The first years — zero to five — that is very significant and that can make the whole difference,” Solórzano said.

Once the program is up and running, they plan to secure funding to offer tuition scholarships. The for-profit center will also accept families enrolled in Hennepin County’s child care assistance program.

They will initially accept 29 children ages 16 months to five years, later expanding the center to include infant care.

Operating out of Plymouth Congregational Church, they have space for an indoor gym. Future plans include a natural playground in a fenced-in area. They’re adapting a curriculum for preschoolers based in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM). The full-day program is available for two, three or five days per week.

Tours of the facility are beginning now. The academy is in the process of securing a state license, and it’s slated to open early this summer at 4 W. Franklin Ave.