School Board votes to pursue immersion program

The School Board reaffirmed its support for a Spanish-language immersion program Monday and directed Superintendent Juli Di Chiro to discuss the idea with the site councils at the district's elementary schools.

Di Chiro will meet with the site councils at their first meetings of the academic year, in October, she said.

At Monday's meeting, Di Chiro advised the board not to pursue an immersion program because it would serve only the students at the immersion school.

She also recommended waiting until the economy improves to begin a second-language program. She advised the board to pursue a second-language program where every student in the district receives 30- to 45-minute lessons several times per week.

"I think we could advantage more children with this than we could with an immersion program and, second, I don't think it would be as disruptive to the schools as an immersion program," Di Chiro said.

Creating an immersion program would mean hiring Spanish-speaking teachers to replace current teachers at one of the district's elementary schools.

Several board members said they were interested in the program Di Chiro suggested, but they believe an immersion program should come first, because it will be far less expensive to implement and because research shows children learn languages faster in immersion programs.

"I am very much in favor of whatever we can do to ensure that kids are going to learn a second language," said board member Ruth Alexander. "From the research, the immersion program is the way to go."

The board voted, 5-0, to direct Di Chiro to discuss the immersion program with the site councils.

An immersion program would likely begin with kindergarten students and would increase a grade level every year, through 12th grade. The district would hire elementary teachers certified in Spanish and they would teach regular subject matter using the language.

Alternately, a program that involved short language lessons for all students would require hiring additional teachers, a considerable expense for the district.

The board voted, 3-2, in March to begin a European model of second-language instruction in fall 2011. Under the European model, language teachers give approximately 30-minute lessons daily.

But after hearing Di Chiro's report Monday, the board directed her to pursue the immersion program first.

The European model, with 30-minute lessons five days per week for an elementary school grade, would cost $97,500 the first year, and about $60,000 more each year, as the program covers more grade levels, according to Di Chiro's report.

The board expressed interest in the European model, but was concerned about the cost, because state officials are predicting more budget cuts next year.

"It's hard to have a program when we are looking at a deficit," said board member Keith Massie, "but I don't want to say we're not going to do it at all."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

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