Dual language immersion program filling up


HUNTINGBURG — Spots in the dual language immersion program at Huntingburg Elementary are filling up.

Kindergarten registration at the Southwest Dubois elementary school kicks off this week, but 24 of the 48 spaces in the program are already full, English Language Learners Director Tonya Schepers said.

“We expect all the slots to be filled,” she said.

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. There are over 20 dual language immersion programs in Indiana, according to Herald archives. Most teach in English and Spanish, but one teaches in English and Mandarin. Southwest Dubois will launch its dual language immersion program in English and Spanish at Huntingburg Elementary this fall with kindergarten. Then, the corporation will add an additional grade level each year.

Dual language immersion programs have a language arts block in each language, then teach remaining subjects in one of the two languages. Science may be taught in English, for example, while social studies is taught in the target language, which at Southwest Dubois will be Spanish. Schepers said administrators are still working out which subjects will be taught in which language next year. There will also be re-enforcement time held in both languages during the day where teachers will make sure the students are understanding the material and academic language.

“The goal is for them to master the content no matter the language,” Schepers said.

Although there will be re-enforcement time during the day, Schepers stressed that students will never be taught the exact same lesson in both languages.

Southwest Dubois began exploring offering a dual language immersion track in 2019 after the Indiana Department of Education suggested establishing a program. From there, the corporation applied for and won a planning grant from the Indiana Department of Education through the Indiana Dual Language Immersion Pilot Program that the legislature set up in 2015. Since winning the grant in August, local administrators have worked with consultants at Indiana University and visited schools with dual language immersion programs across Indiana and in other states, most notably in Utah. The corporation is also applying for a second $50,000 grant to continue the planning process that will expand the program beyond kindergarten in the coming years. The grant application is due in April.

As for the first year of the dual language immersion program, Schepers said, the corporation is in the final stages of setup. Although the school board has yet to approve the appointment, Schepers said a Spanish language teacher is lined up for the program. The teacher, Scheper said, is currently an instructional assistant in the English language learner program at the school and was a teacher in El Salvador. The teacher is currently going through Indiana’s teacher licensing process.

“We have a lot of kids whose heritage background is El Salvadoran, so we thought that was a good place to start,” Schepers said.

Amy Kaetzel will be the English language teacher.

As the program expands in the coming years, Schepers said the school plans to tap into its alumni network to find bilingual Southridge High School graduates who are pursuing education careers. Indiana also has a memorandum of understanding with Spain to help schools find teachers for the programs.

“That will help us with the Spanish side, but also being really immersed in that culture,” Schepers said.

After kindergarten registration ends on Friday, Schepers said the next steps will be splitting students enrolled in the dual language immersion track into two classes of 24 students. Ideally, each class will be split equally between students who speak English at home and students who speak Spanish at home.

The dual language immersion program will take two of the six kindergarten classes taught at Huntingburg Elementary next year. The other four classes will be taught traditionally — fully in English with students in need of English language skills receiving extra support.

Schepers stressed that the dual language immersion program is — and will remain — optional.

Parents of incoming kindergartners interested in enrolling their child in the dual language immersion program can find the application on Huntingburg Elementary’s website. Information about kindergarten registration is also available on the website.

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