McPolin Elementary School Dual Immersion teacher Maria Morales teaches her first grade students family and animal words in Spanish in her classroom on
McPolin Elementary School Dual Immersion teacher Maria Morales teaches her first grade students family and animal words in Spanish in her classroom on Tuesday, Dec. 9. Photo by Christopher Reeves/The Park Record.
The cafeteria at Parley's Park Elementary School held about 30 curious parents from the district, all wondering what the status of the Dual Immersion program is at their children's schools. Associate Superintendent of Teaching, Learning and Technology Lori Gardner stood at the head of the crowd to answer their many questions.

The Park City School District offers Dual Immersion at the four elementary schools: Spanish at McPolin and Parley's Park and French at Trailside and Jeremy Ranch. Students in the Dual Immersion programs spend half their day learning in Spanish or French and the other half learning in English.

Gardner said the district saw the program as an opportunity to improve students' college and job opportunities. Parents across the district have decided to take advantage of the opportunity, so much so that there is a waitlist for students to be accepted into dual immersion in first grade.

Younger siblings of the students that were in the program prior to the 2012-13 school year were guaranteed a spot, Gardner said, but now that the program has filled up at most of the elementary schools, that promise has been rescinded. Parents were upset about the sudden change.

"When we began this program, we thought we could sustain that," Gardner said. "But at registration this year, 200 students had been promised a spot, and that was a problem."

Parents who were also looking to get their children into the program beginning in kindergarten as had been offered previously were disappointed to learn that beginning next year, the district will no longer offer Dual Immersion in kindergarten.

Gardner said the full-day kindergarten program was begun for students with limited skills that had not gone to preschool or needed extra help before entering first grade. That meant these children were having a difficult time learning in two different languages.

"Was there any opportunity for parent input in this decision?" asked one concerned mother. When Gardner said there was not, she said she felt as though the rules had unjustly been changed in the middle of the game.

Gardner said the program was still available for students in grades 1-6, but a father in attendance said he had given up on his daughter being able to get into the program and asked about the World Language program.

Ellie Gallagher, the district's Dual Immersion program coordinator, said the World Language program was just as great as the Dual Immersion program. Gardner helped justify Gallagher's argument by letting parents know that students graduating from Park City High School were getting accepted into Ivy League schools without a Dual Immersion education.

"More than half the seniors who took the AP Literature exam passed with a 4 or higher," Gardner said. "Dual Immersion students will take that test as sophomores while World Language students will continue to take that test as seniors. It is a different route, but they will still be proficient in another language."

Parents with students on the Dual Immersion program waitlist wanted to know how late their child could enter the program and still be able to pick up another language as proficiently as their peers who entered into the program earlier than they did.

Parley's Park Elementary School Principal David Gomez said students could enter as late as fourth grade and still be able to pick up the language. He told them about how his parents uprooted him to Monterrey in Mexico when he was in fourth grade and was thrown into a full immersion school with only one class in English. He said he stayed there for three years, and to this day, he is still fluently bilingual.

"I'm not saying it will be easy, but it is possible," Gomez said.

When parents asked why more spots were not being made available, Gardner said it is because fluent Spanish-speaking and French-speaking teachers are hard to come by. Gallagher said seven new teachers were hired for Dual Immersion this year, and that was difficult to accomplish.

Gardner said they will need five to 10 more teachers at the middle school, and that is one-third of the staff. To offer more spots in Dual Immersion would mean even more teachers.

For the 2014-15 school year, there will not be a lottery for names on the waitlist for entry into Dual Immersion, but there will be for the 2015-16 school year. There is also a proposal on the desk of the superintendent, Gardner said, that will decide if students that were promised to be "grandfathered" in will be able to do so next year.

"As soon as Superintendent Conley makes a decision, we will post that decision on all of the websites," Gardner said. "We have done a poor job of communicating with you [parents], and we hope to improve that as the year goes on."

For more information on the Dual Immersion program, visit www.pcschools.us/index.php?page=299.1.