Ne­whall School Dis­trict set to un­veil dual im­mer­sion program

The Signal - - Front Page - By Bren­non Dix­son Sig­nal Staff Writer

Lead­ers of the Ne­whall School Dis­trict are ex­cited to un­veil a new program that par­ents can learn about by at­tend­ing one of the four up­com­ing dual lan­guage im­mer­sion in­for­ma­tion meetings oc­cur­ring next week.

As NSD of­fi­cials con­tinue work­ing to fi­nal­ize the de­tails of a dual im­mer­sion program that’s ex­pected to hit the dis­trict in 2020, Old Or­chard and Ne­whall ele­men­tary schools will each host two meetings next week in an at­tempt to in­form par­ents about the ben­e­fits of such a program.

Old Or­chard will hold the first meet­ing from 6 to 7 p.m. Mon­day be­fore hosting an­other from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, ac­cord­ing to the dis­trict’s face­book page. Ne­whall Ele­men­tary will then host the re­main­ing two meetings on Wed­nes­day — with the first one start­ing at 8:30 a.m. and the fi­nal one be­gin­ning at 6 p.m.

“We started talk­ing about (a dual im­mer­sion program) a cou­ple years ago,” and tried to de­cide when would be the right time to move for­ward with it, said Dee Jami­son, NSD’s as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent of in­struc­tional ser­vices. “As time moved on, we had more par­ents ask­ing about a program,” and

— at the same time — teach­ers and new hires were ask­ing about it, as well.

“What re­ally pushed us for­ward was when par­ents were now con­tact­ing board mem­bers ask­ing those kinds of ques­tions,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Jeff Pelzel said. “Then when board mem­bers reached out to us, we said, ‘We have been talk­ing about this,’” but part of the chal­lenge was the dis­trict’s re­cent string of cur­ricu­lum adop­tions.

“Adding a dual im­mer­sion on top of mul­ti­ple cur­ricu­lum adop­tions is a lot to ask of a teach­ing staff,” Pelzel said. But now, since all of the pieces have fallen into place, “it makes sense for us to move in that direc­tion.”

While search­ing for cur­ricu­lum in pre­vi­ous years, the dis­trict knew that it wanted to adopt ma­te­ri­als that had par­al­lel for­eign-lan­guage com­po­nents just in case they opted to de­velop a dual im­mer­sion program, Pelzel said, be­cause the wrong cur­ricu­lum — and the costs as­so­ci­ated with adopt­ing new ma­te­ri­als — can end a dual im­mer­sion program be­fore it has a chance to even begin.

In fact, when the Cas­taic Union School Dis­trict in­tro­duced the pos­si­bil­ity a sim­i­lar program be­ing es­tab­lished at one of their school sites, stake­hold­ers ques­tioned the fea­si­bil­ity of such a costly program and said there are other pro­grams the dis­trict would be bet­ter off pur­su­ing, such as those that fo­cus on sci­ence, so­cial stud­ies and math.

How­ever, since Ne­whall knows its cur­ricu­lum will suf­fice in a dual im­mer­sion en­vi­ron­ment, Pelzel, Jami­son and other NSD lead­ers be­lieve they will house a strong program that will avoid most of the pit­falls that other lo­cal dis­tricts have fore­seen.

“We’ve es­sen­tially just been wait­ing to pull the trig­ger,” and that’s what hap­pen­ing now, Jami­son said. “We brought it to the board and they were very ex­cited.”

After ap­proval, the dis­trict im­me­di­ately be­gan meet­ing with var­i­ous stake­holder groups, “and ev­ery­body was on fire with ex­cite­ment,” Pelzel said.

There are many dif­fer­ent dual im­mer­sion models es­tab­lished through­out the coun­try but NSD ex­pects to use a 50-50 program model, mean­ing

stu­dents will be learn­ing 50 per­cent of the time in English and 50 per­cent of the time in Span­ish, Jami­son said. Par­ents have shared sto­ries of their child who is learn­ing English strug­gling to main­tain their flu­ency in Span­ish, which makes the dis­trict think it can pro­vide more sup­port to these stu­dents.

“Dual im­mer­sion is an op­por­tu­nity for our na­tive English speak­ers and our na­tive Span­ish speak­ers to truly de­velop equal levels of pro­fi­ciency in two lan­guages,” added the as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent. The data shows that re­clas­si­fied English learn­ers out­per­form their English-only speak­ing peers in al­most ev­ery sub­ject area, which leads the dis­trict to be­lieve that its du­al­im­mer­sion par­tic­i­pants will as well.

The in­au­gu­ral year of the program will begin next Au­gust at Old Or­chard Ele­men­tary School with 48 in­com­ing kinder­gart­ners and 48 first­graders, “and then we’ll build be­yond that,” Jami­son said. “We will add (tran­si­tional kinder­garten) the fol­low­ing year and you can add one grade level ev­ery time the stu­dents ma­tric­u­late up.”

The program isn’t tak­ing over Old Or­chard, Jami­son said. “In­stead, it’ll be more like a school within a school, so we’ll start there and we’ll see what the re­sponse of the com­mu­nity is — and over time, we may want to ex­pand based on their de­sires.”

The dis­trict feels it may have more than 96 stu­dents who are in­ter­ested so it will use a lot­tery sys­tem to de­ter­mine the ap­pli­cants who will be ac­cepted into the program and the dis­trict also plans to con­nect with the Wil­liam S. Hart Union High School Dis­trict so stu­dents can earn a Seal of Bilit­er­acy, “which is a pres­ti­gious des­ig­na­tion that will go on their high school diploma,” Jami­son said, be­fore shar­ing the many other ben­e­fits of the program — like an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for cul­ture, lan­guage and learn­ing.

With so much ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing the program, Pelzel said he looks for­ward to dis­cussing the much-awaited im­mer­sion program with the var­i­ous stake­hold­ers of the dis­trict.

Those who are un­able to at­tend one of next week’s meetings can at­tend the dis­trict’s open house event on Jan. 31, Pelzel said. There will be a lot for ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing dis­cus­sions about dual im­mer­sion and an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cover ad­di­tional pro­grams that are avail­able in the dis­trict as well.

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