Planning to begin for dual language immersion program

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — The Southwest Dubois County School Corporation is one step closer to establishing a dual language immersion program in the district.

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.

School officials recently found out that they 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. Now, they are challenged with figuring out the details of an English-Spanish dual language immersion program they want to launch at Huntingburg Elementary next school year.

“We’re honored to be hand-picked really by the state to receive this grant,” said Southwest Dubois Director of Curriculum Melissa Boeglin.

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.

Dual language immersion programs are not new. In Indiana, there are 24 such programs throughout the state with 23 using English and Spanish and one using English and Mandarin, and other states have had such programs for many years. Last week, The New York Times published an article about an English and French dual language immersion program in Mamou, Louisiana.

Regardless of which language is taught besides English, dual language immersion programs all follow the same structure. Two teachers cover the classes — one who teaches in English, the other in the target language, such as Spanish — and the students enrolled in the program learn their subjects in both languages, with a daily language arts block in both languages.

For the other subjects, programs rotate which language the content is taught in. One school year, they may take math and science in English and social studies in the target language, and the next school year math and science in the target language and social studies in English. The goal is for students to graduate high school fluent in both languages.

Southwest Dubois school officials plan to set up their program as an enrichment program. Families who wish to participate will have to apply, and a limited number of students will be accepted each year. Huntingburg Elementary Principal Chad Whitehead stressed that the dual language offering will not be for all students nor will it be a requirement. Although planning is still in the early stages, officials envision the dual language immersion program taking two sections of students. The other three sections Huntingburg Elementary has for each grade would teach every subject in English as they do now.

School officials also stressed that the program is not geared specifically toward native Spanish or native English speakers. It is designed to benefit both, and research shows that participation in a dual language immersion program is indeed a benefit.

A study by the RAND Corporation, a California-based research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges, found that students in a dual language immersion program in Portland, Oregon, outperformed their peers on reading tests and that English language learners enrolled in the program were proficient in English by sixth grade. The study did not find statistically significant benefits or deficits in terms of mathematics or science performance.

So far, Southwest officials said they haven’t heard much feedback from the community about their plans to offer the program. The corporation held an informational session in May with Vesna Dimitrieska, director of global education initiatives at Indiana University’s School of Education, who presented on dual immersion programs. About 30 people attended.

Moving forward, school officials plan to set up a planning committee that includes school officials, parents and community stakeholders, such as business leaders, who will travel to schools with dual language immersion programs to learn more about how to set up and operate one. The committee will then play a key part in developing the program for Southwest Dubois.

Anyone wishing to serve on that committee can contact Boeglin at boeglinm@swdubois.k12.in.us or Whitehead at whiteheadc@swdubois.k12.in.us.




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