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Board members seek Spanish immersion details

Two District 833 School Board members want to know how many students would attend Woodbury High School for Spanish immersion classes before they agree to extend the program.

The immersion program, where all classes except physical education, music and art, are taught in Spanish, has three classes at each level from kindergarten through fifth grade.

The classes, which are run alongside a traditional program at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove, are not open to students who already speak Spanish. The program is for children whose parents want them to be bilingual.

The first class of immersion students is in seventh grade at Cottage Grove Middle School. That class would go to ninth grade in the 2013-14 school year for classes offered only at Woodbury High School with no student busing, according the outline of an immersion plan presented to the School Board Nov. 3 by Linda Plante, Woodbury High School principal, and Elise Block, principal at Cottage Grove Middle School.

"How many parents want their kids in immersion?" said board member Jim Gelbmann.

If parents are not interested, it would be hard to justify the high school program, he said.

"I want to see the numbers," said board member Ron Kath.

Classes, two at each grade level, might be smaller, about 15 students, at first, Plante said, but would grow as more students become interested just as interest grew in advanced placement classes.

If immersion classes are small, then some traditional classes would be larger, Gelbmann said, or the school would not reach the specified average of 32 students.

The parents want "certainty," Plante said, that the program has school board support.

Kath, who said he was "taken aback" by Plante's comment about board support, said he's been urging the administration to develop a program to "figure out where we're going" as opposed to the current "piecemeal" approach.

Currently, Spanish immersion students in grades 6-8 take social studies with the class taught in Spanish and Spanish language and culture classes all three years.

At Woodbury High School, students would have social studies and language arts classes in Spanish.

As seniors, students would take a humanities class emphasizing authentic communication in Spanish relating to Spanish and Latin American literature. There would also be a public service component.

Plante said she's already hired a social studies teacher and one for language arts who have high Spanish language proficiency and are also teaching regular classes in English. In researching language immersion programs in other districts, Plante and Block traveled to Portland, Ore., to observe classes and meet with teachers, administrators and members of a parent advisory group.

The next step will be to develop curriculums for classes and work with the advisory group of parents of immersion students about continuing to have native-speaking language assistants in secondary classes.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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