Evergreen schools to offer English-Spanish immersion program

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



Public meetings

What: Evergreen Public Schools will have informational meetings about the new dual-language immersion program.

When: The meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 20; 10 a.m. Jan. 21; 7 p.m. Feb. 10; and 10 a.m. Feb 12.

Where: Marrion Elementary School, 10119 N.E. 14th St.

Kindergartners in one classroom next fall will greet their new teacher with “Hola” instead of “Hello.”

A couple of dozen native English- and Spanish-speaking 5- and 6-year-olds will share a classroom for a new two-way immersion program at Marrion Elementary School. The dual-language program is the first of what Evergreen Public Schools’ officials hope to be many immersion programs offered to students.

The 28-student classroom will be half native English speakers and half native Spanish speakers. District officials are asking parents to commit to the six-year program that runs through fifth grade, said Tom Nadal, Evergreen director of elementary education. There is no tuition for the program.

The kindergartners will receive 90 percent of classroom instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English. The following year, instruction will be split 80-20, then 70-30 and so on until reaching 50-50 in fourth grade. Fifth grade instruction will also be split 50-50, Nadal said.

“They end up biliterate at a fifth-grade level and fluent in both languages,” he said.

The program will immerse English-speaking students in a foreign language while also teaching Spanish-speaking students English. The Spanish-speaking children are students who would otherwise participate in the school’s English-language learners program, Nadal said.

“Our district has an achievement gap between some of our minorities and our white or Caucasian kids,” he said. “This should help close the achievement gap for some of those kids.”

Any child who is bilingual will have an advantage in the working world over a child who speaks only one language, Nadal said. One of the fastest growing immigrant groups is Hispanics, and being able to speak Spanish could make English-speaking students better equipped for their careers, he said.

Research also has shown students who are fluent in a non-native language out-perform other students in all subject areas, Nadal said. In addition, officials hope the program will connect students with different backgrounds and build an intercultural understanding, he said.

The district hired the new kindergarten teacher last year. She is currently teaching kindergarten at Marrion and is a native Spanish speaker, Nadal said. The district will also need to hire a new teacher for each grade as the students advance, he said.

The other expense for the program is purchasing instructional materials in both English and Spanish. Nadal did not have a price tag for those costs.

The new program is similar to immersion programs in Vancouver Public Schools. Instruction in the English-Spanish program at Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School, which began seven years ago, is split 50-50. Harney Elementary School has a 3-year-old full-immersion Spanish program in which kindergartners receive 100 percent Spanish instruction. The district also began a full-immersion Mandarin program at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School last year.

Marrion Elementary was selected as the home school for the Evergreen program based on its current demographics. The school has the largest number and percentage of students who are predominantly Spanish-speaking of all Evergreen elementary schools, Nadal said.

The district also is conducting outreach to the Eastern European community and considering a similar program for Russian-speaking students, Nadal said. Russian is the second most commonly spoken language behind English in the Evergreen district, he said. The district is also exploring interest in Chinese and Japanese programs.

Applications for the new program will be accepted until Feb. 25. Students living in the Marrion boundaries will be given priority for admission to the program.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.