Blaine County expands bilingual program

Tom Archie expects his son to be reading two languages fluently by middle school, thanks to an expanding Blaine County School District program.

Archie’s second-grade son, Holden, has been enrolled in the district’s Dual Language Immersion program since kindergarten.

Woodside
Woodside Elementary will be transformed into a magnet school featuring English and Spanish instruction in 2014-2015. (All photos courtesy of Ethan Davis and Blaine County School District).

In the program, Holden and about 25 percent of the district’s students receive half of their instruction in language, math, social studies and science in English, while the other half of instruction comes in Spanish.

About half of the students in the program are native English speakers like Holden, while the other half are Spanish speakers.

The program’s goals are to produce graduates who are bilingual, have a better understanding of other cultures, perform better on standardized test scores and have better job prospects after finishing their education.

“It’s been nothing but a really positive experience,” said Archie, a local doctor. “I’ve been really impressed at how quickly he can learn the language.”

Although the program is 12 years old, it is set for a expansion in the fall of 2014. Following more than 25 public meetings spread over nearly three years, Blaine County’s school board voted in January to convert Woodside Elementary to a full-time Dual Immersion magnet school.

The move should allow nearly 500 of the district’s students to participate in Dual Immersion, program coordinator Molly Michalec said.

“Right now the difficulty is due to the fact it’s spread out among four elementary schools,” Michalec said. “But in centralizing it, we can increase services.”

Moving everything under one roof should allow for greater teacher collaboration and professional development as well, and balance out class sizes between those who are in the program and those who aren’t.

The magnet school will also allow for Spanish instruction in additional courses, such as art and P.E.

Brad Henson, the principal at Woodside Elementary, supports the conversion to a magnet school even though it will bring changes to the building he has worked at for four years. Henson said he is pleased with the program’s results and praised the district for involving parents and patrons in the decision.

Brad Woodside
Woodside Principal Brad Henson, left, offers high-fives to some of students.

“I think the magnet school is just going to help develop the program to be even stronger,” Henson said. “It will build capacity and add to our resources, like having grade level teams rather than (teachers) spread out. It will add lot in terms of consistency.”

Michalec said Blaine County officials don’t specifically compare Dual Immersion students with those who aren’t in the program. But she said when Dual Immersion participants are compared to statewide ISAT averages in their grade level, Dual Immersion students perform better in every category.

Archie’s family supports the district expanding Dual Immersion. They enrolled Holden for the challenge and to help him understand other cultures. They also saw a benefit to studying a second language at such an early age, as opposed to waiting until eighth grade like many students.

Archie said Holden has begun to turn the corner academically, where he now views school as school, not an extension of playtime. Holden now reads about three grade levels ahead and has developed such an appetite for reading English books that his parents have to take care to recommend his next book be in Spanish.

Archie said each parent should decide if the program is right for their student. Archie urged parents considering the program to attend an informational meeting, visit the classroom or seek out parents whose students have been involved for more than just a couple of years.

While Archie speaks English and French, he does not speak Spanish, which challenges his family as Holden progresses with his assignments.

Not surprisingly, Spanish assignments have proven to be the most difficult for Holden, which means parent involvement is key to success.

“It takes a commitment on the part of the parents to be present and participate,” Archie said. “It’s not a ton of time, but we might spend 20 minutes three days a week doing Spanish homework.”

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