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Loving Languages

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunFourth-grade dual immersion teacher Yvonne Hogan writes in both English and Spanish during class Monday afternoon at Kings Beach Elementary.
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Interest is high but openings are few at Kings Beach Elementary’s bilingual language program, so administrators will conduct a lottery to select the applicants.

The dual immersion program, touted by both educators and parents as the most effective second-language acquisition model available, will accept just 40 kindergartners next year, enough to fill two classes. Yet applications average nearly 60 a year.

“For the native English speakers, the greatest benefit is that they get to be friends with people from another culture and they get to learn another language,” said kindergarten teacher Tara House. “For the Spanish speaker, they get to see opportunities that they might not ordinarily see. The more that they rely on each other in the lower grades, the better they can get along in the upper grades.”

On the six-year dual immersion track, kindergartners and first graders learn 90 percent of their material in Spanish. Classes are comprised of half English-language learners and half native speakers through the entire program.

In second and third grade, classes are taught in 80 percent Spanish; 50 percent in fourth and fifth grade. By the sixth grade, all dual immersion students are fluent in both Spanish and English.

“It works because both [English learners] and English speakers have models in the classroom,” said House. “The kids who are learning Spanish learn from the teacher and the kids who are learning English learn from conversations with their friends.”

With so many families clamoring for a spot in the program, the board of trustees has seen the need to expand the program to other school sites, but doing so has not proven easy. Lack of specialized training is one reason.

“It’s a difficult program in that you have the right qualified teacher to teach the program. You have to have a BCLAD and native-like fluency, so we don’t have unlimited resources,” said Tahoe Truckee board president Kristy Olk.

Just 15 district teachers have obtained the Bilingual Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development, or BCLAD, credential, according to Curriculum Director Jessamy Lasher.

A minimum of six qualified teachers are needed for each dual immersion strand, one for each grade. The school district will pay for more teachers to take the BCLAD test, Lasher said, but it is not permitted to pay for teachers to take the necessary courses because doing so would move a teacher up on the pay scale.

Truckee Elementary has enough English learners to build a successful dual immersion program, but there are only a few qualified teachers there ” not enough to implement the full program, according to Olk.

The school is currently running a bilingual early-exit program in which Spanish speakers receive academic support in their native language until the fourth grade, and then transfer into a mainstream English class. Native English speakers, however, do not have the option to receive their education in Spanish.

Glenshire Elementary does not have the Spanish-speaking population to fit the model, and neither does Tahoe Lake or Donner Trail, Olk said.

Meanwhile, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District board in South Lake Tahoe is considering the adoption of a dual immersion program for Bijou Community School in the 2008-09 academic year.

The Kings Beach language program, the only one of its kind in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, has been popular since its inception in 1998, and a lottery system has been built into the district’s board policy to handle the influx of applicants ” nearly 60 per year.

First preference is given to siblings of students already in the program, then new kindergartners in the Kings Beach attendance area, followed by those in the district, and then those out of the district, according to board president Kristy Olk.


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