By Colin Smith, WCCO Radio

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — As you walk the halls of Riverview West School of Excellence in St. Paul, you hear the constant buzz that’s associated with a new school year.

But listen closely and you might hear something else: Bilingual preschoolers.

The diverse school of more than 360 students has started a new pre-kindergarten bilingual immersion program this year. Forty students — 20 native English speakers, 20 native Spanish speakers — will be instructed in both languages on a daily basis.

“We are becoming a more bilingual culture here in the United States, so it’s a huge asset,” said Riverview principal Melisa Riveria, who herself speaks both English and Spanish. “It will help to start these students bilingually before they reach kindergarten.”

Research has revealed that bilingualism in children is associated with increased cognitive skills and better performance on some perceptual tasks.

“Typically these benefits are not seen until the fifth or sixth grade,” Riveria said.

Minnesota has one of the largest immersion programs in the country. Riverview West joins Jackson Elementary (Hmong-English) and Wellstone Elementary (Spanish-English) among St. Paul schools offering a bilingual program.

Adams School is a one-way immersion program that is almost entirely Spanish-speaking.