Next fall, the is likely to pilot its first Dual Language Mandarin-English Kindergarten class at .
According to the district’s ELL/LAP Supervisor Heidi LaMare, parents have frequently requested that schools provide more and higher-level language offerings for their children. Since January, LaMare and other district staff members have been planning such a program at the elementary level.
In addition to keen parent interest such a course. studies have shown that standardized test scores of students in Dual Language or immersion programs are, on average, higher than the test scores of their English-only speaking peers. Furthermore, the cognitive demand of a Dual Language program generally gives these bilingual students an early advantage in other disciplines, including the English language and mathematics.
The benefits of participating in such a program extend beyond the childhood years. While the most effective time for a child to learn a language is between their pre-Kindergarten and fifth grade years, Colin Baker, a leading expert on bilingualism and education from Bangor University, said, “In nearly every field and profession, from financial services to sales, there is an advantage for bilingual individuals.”
Available from Kindergarten through the 5th grade, the Mandarin-English Dual Language program will differ from the Spanish Immersion classes at Puesta del Sol Elementary. One key difference is that enrollment in a Dual Language class will be split between primarily Mandarin-speaking students and primarily English-speaking students. This way, students will be able to learn not only from their bilingual teacher, but also from their interactions with one another. The Spanish Immersion class at Puesta del Sol, in-class instruction time is split evenly between English and Spanish. On the other hand, in a Dual Language class, the vast majority of the instruction time—90% for the first two years—will be in Mandarin for Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
Decisions regarding the program are not being made without outside advice. LaMare and her coworkers have contacted and analyzed the effectiveness of similar Chinese-English Dual Language programs in schools in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.
“In order to keep the integrity of the program, we have to keep it made up of 50% Mandarin-speaking students and 50% English-speaking students,” said LaMare.
Ardmore was selected to host the new program because of its low enrollment of fewer than 300 students at its brand-new facility with the capacity for 500 students. In addition, a Spanish-English Dual Language program of a similar structure will be piloted at Sherwood Forest Elementary at the same time.
Newport’s Sophomore Tenaya Bien and Senior Alyssa Garrett have been enrolled in Spanish Immersion since Kindergarten. They have both found their bilingualism to be very helpful throughout grade school.
Said Bien, “Spanish Immersion has given me the opportunity to become fluent in a second language while learning an entirely different culture. It has also given me endless possibilities as far as communicating with native speakers, traveling, and exploring careers.”
After recent PTSA meetings at both Ardmore and Sherwood Forest, it appears that developments will continue for both programs. While LaMare has received passionate criticisms about bilingual education programs, many like Garrett and Bien view it as a unique opportunity.
“[Bilingual programs] popular in European countries, and I encourage [their] growth in the US. Only speaking English puts one at a disadvantage in today's rapidly globalizing world,” said Garrett.
To learn more about the Dual Language programs, go to the district website at http://bsd405.org or contact Heidi LaMare at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kuba Jeffers writes for , a publication of .