Parley’s Park dives into dual immersion
April 24, 2009
For a few dozen first graders at Parley’s Park Elementary School (PPES), the typical school day is about to get a complete makeover.
Starting in the fall of the 2009-2010 school year, 50 first-grade students from the Park City School District will participate in a dual immersion 50/50 program, in which half of the school day will be taught in English, and the other half will be taught in Spanish.
As a two-way immersion program, 50 native Spanish- and English-speaking students will be divided evenly into two classes. Class A will spend the morning focusing on subjects taught in English — language arts, physical education, music and computers — and the afternoon learning subjects taught in Spanish — math, science, social studies and health. Class B will have the opposite schedule. There will be two teachers, one teaching the subjects in English and one teaching the subjects in Spanish.
The bilingual immersion program is sponsored by the state of Utah to encourage intercultural understanding and language proficiency in both academic and interpersonal settings. The funding is provided by the state and the program is one of the few that has not been affected by budget cuts.
Dual immersion programs have been implemented in 15 schools across the state, and research findings have been promising enough for the Utah Legislature to approve funding for the start-up of 30 additional programs in the fall of this year. PPES has received an $18,000 grant to purchase curriculum materials, resources and supplies.
PPES Principal Michele Wallace took the initiative in getting state funding allocated to Parley’s Park and in getting program planning off the ground. Wallace leads a committee made up of parents and teachers that has paved the way for the program’s implementation, from overseeing the enrollment process to hiring its teachers.
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Language immersion provides a different approach to learning a foreign language. Instead of solely learning about the language itself (as in a Spanish class), students will learn the language primarily through academic subject matter. The students that enroll in the program will receive 540 hours of instruction in a foreign language over the course of a year, whereas students taking a language class would receive only 90 hours.
Students who are accepted into the pilot program must commit for at least three years. Starting with the 2010-2011 school year, one grade level will be added each year until a program is in place for each grade through fifth. Bilingual teachers will be added to the faculty each year as non-bilingual teachers leave the district.
The main goal of the program is for both English and Spanish speakers to achieve fluency in the partner language. The educators and administration at PPES believe that the program will be beneficial in diminishing the achievement gap and will also help students learn to appreciate other cultures and become better prepared to thrive in diverse communities.
"This will take community development to a new level, and I think Park City schools are ready for that," says James Kehr, a committee member and second-grade teacher at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School.
Research has shown that students in bilingual programs tend to achieve higher levels of language proficiency and higher test scores than their peers in monolingual classes. Other benefits include increased confidence, cognitive flexibility and problem-solving abilities. The program spans beyond education into economic, political and socioeconomic spheres. "The statistics are pretty clear both the native English speakers and native Spanish speakers benefit from this program," says Stacey Harris, a second-grade teacher at PPES who serves on the dual immersion committee.
"We’re providing the best instruction for Spanish-speaking families that are coming into Park City, and we’re also challenging the English-speaking students," says Aubree Lee, a second-grade teacher.
Members of the committee agree that the program is especially important to offer to students in Park City, where the Hispanic population in schools is approximately 20 percent. The state chooses which language a school will teach in its immersion program, so the partner language could have been French or Mandarin Chinese, Harris explains. "I’m grateful for the Spanish opportunity," she says. "It’s practical for Park City.
The program at PPES will follow the basic Utah core curriculum requirements for first grade, with substitutions of Spanish-language materials in the Spanish subject areas. The students in the two dual immersion classes will still participate in lunch, recess, field trips and other activities with their peers in non-immersion classes.
Leigh O’Donnell, who currently teaches first grade at PPES, has been hired as the teacher for the English component of the program. "I’m just excited to be a part of it," she says. "I think there will be some challenges, especially in the beginning, but I’m really looking forward to it."
The committee is in the process of hiring the teacher for the Spanish subject matter. Wallace says she has reviewed applications from Mexico and Spain, and she’s very impressed by the richness of their resumes. "We want our children to have the capacity to have resumes like these," she says.
The ideal ratio for the program is one English-speaking student to one Spanish-speaking student. Wallace explains that they had more initial interest from parents of English-speaking students, but she expects to enroll 17 Spanish-speaking students. "We’re helping Latino families understand that there are more benefits in being able to read and write in Spanish than in just speaking the language," she says.
The enrollment period for next year’s program is over, but Wallace says they will continue to offer the program to first-graders at PPES. The program may also be implemented at McPolin Elementary School in 2010-2011. To find out more about the dual immersion program, visit http://ppes.pcschools.us/index.php?page=102.