District pursuing dual language immersion program


HUNTINGBURG — If everything goes according to plan, Southwest Dubois Schools will have a dual language immersion program beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

Dual language immersion programs immerse children in two languages — English and a second language, most commonly Spanish — by teaching subjects in both languages. By the time students complete the programs, they are fluent in both languages.

At Southwest Schools, the plan is to launch a program at Huntingburg Elementary School beginning with one section of kindergarten in 2020-21 and adding the program to each grade level one year at a time. The corporation held an information session about the program Wednesday evening, and Vesna Dimitrieska, director of global education initiatives at Indiana University’s School of Education presented on dual immersion programs. About 30 people attended.

The Indiana Department of Education reached out to Southwest Dubois to see if the educators would be interested in starting a dual language immersion program. The department offers a planning grant to help schools set up dual language immersion programs through the Indiana Dual Language Immersion Pilot Program that the legislature set up in 2015. Currently, there are 24 such programs throughout the state with 23 using English and Spanish and one using English and Mandarin.

At Southwest Dubois, educators are pursuing the grant to set up a program using English and Spanish. The corporation’s dual language immersion program would be the first in Southern Indiana.

“We could do it without the grant, but the grant will give us the money necessary to do all the professional development,” said Director of Curriculum Melissa Boeglin. “The challenge is going to be finding teachers.”

Generally, Dimitrieska explained, dual language immersion programs have two teachers: one who teaches in English and the other who teaches in the partner language, which would be Spanish at Southwest Dubois. The teacher who teaches in the partner language must be fluent in it because they are teaching subjects in that language.

“[Students] are not learning Spanish,” Dimitrieska explained. “They’re learning math in Spanish. They’re learning social studies in Spanish.”

The programs are usually set up to have a language arts block in both languages so students learn to read and write in both. Then, the other subjects are taught in one language, so math might be taught in English while social studies or science is taught in the partner language. The next year, that might switch so that math is taught in the partner language and social studies or science is taught in English.

“That way [students] are not doing what adults do, which is constantly translating in their heads,” said Tonya Schepers, English language learners coordinator at Southwest Dubois. “They’re thinking in both languages.”

In her presentation, Dimitrieska explained that dual language immersion programs set children up for future success by preparing them with skills employers want. According to surveys of large companies, the need for bilingual employees and employees who can work with people of other cultures is increasing. The surveys also showed that employers don’t think U.S. students are prepared in terms of foreign language proficiency or knowledge of cultures outside the U.S.

“That is why we’re here,” Dimitrieska said. “Employers want us to fill this gap.”

In Indiana alone, 968 of the 1,375 major companies are foreign-owned, and 21 percent of jobs are tied to international trade, according to Dimitrieska’s presentation. Meanwhile, the U.S. as a whole lags behind the rest of the world in multilingualism. According to the presentation, 65% of the world population is bilingual or multilingual, while only 20% of the U.S. population is.

In addition to the economic benefits of having a bilingual population, Dimitrieska explained, being bilingual is beneficial for individuals. Bilingual students consistently score better on standardized tests, and bilingual people show better mental health and a lower rate of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. And students who learn two languages alongside each other tend to become stronger in both languages.

Educators at Southwest Dubois see the benefits of a dual language immersion program, and want to be the leader in bringing those benefits to the area. The district is applying for the IDOE grant to set up a dual language immersion program and expects to hear over the summer if they win the grant. The next step would be to have a planning year during the 2019-20 school year to set up the program. The program would launch in the 2020-21 school year with one kindergarten section — or classroom — at Huntingburg Elementary being dual language immersion. One grade level would be added to the program each of the following years.

For more information, Dimitrieska’s presentation will be made available on the school corporation’s website, www.swdubois.k12.in.us.

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