Students who don’t speak English are often viewed as a burden on teachers and the classroom.
But the Old Adobe Union School District has adopted an innovative model that pairs Spanish-dominant students with native English speakers, and that teachers and parents say is remarkably effective in acquiring fluency in both languages while improving reading, writing and math skills for all children.
Since starting in 2009, Old Adobe’s dual immersion program has steadily grown and attracted parents from other districts in Sonoma County as well as Marin. Today more than 150 students are enrolled with the number expected to hit more than 200 by the start of next school year, according to Superintendent Cindy Pilar.
Last week, the Old Adobe school board voted to move the program to Bernard Eldredge Elementary School, closed in 2010 due to declining enrollment.
“Many parents are recognizing that having a second language is a skill that’s very important for their children,” Pilar said. “Parents are looking for schools that are offering unique programs in addition to the core curriculum and we’re just thrilled about this program and the potential it holds for our families.”
Dual immersion begins in kindergarten with native English and Spanish speaking students in the same classroom. About 90 percent of instruction is in Spanish the first year, but it's gradually reduced so that by the time students reach fifth grade, instruction is spread evenly between English and Spanish.
And it's not just Latino parents seeking out dual immersion.
Tracy Perlich, a mother of two, moved to Petaluma specifically so that her children could attend the program.
“I think every child in the States should be bilingual,” Perlich said. “They need to speak two languages and if you educate them in two languages, they don’t have to learn it later on…It helps them get into college, improves their chance of getting a job and is just the way of the future.”
Many other districts have been slow to take on the program, in part because of additional funding for staff development and materials in another language.
But Cindy Pilar, the district superintendent, said the only additional costs will come from hiring a librarian and counselor for the school. (Bernard Eldredge already has a custodian, since it has been used for professional development and as a preschool site.)
The district will also be hiring a new principal to be in place by January 2013. The program will officially move to the new campus by August 2013.
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