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updated: 12/15/2011 6:20 AM

Dist. 220 plans for Chinese, Spanish immersion programs

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Though Barrington Unit District 220's Chinese language immersion program has only just begun for kindergartners and first graders, advance planning already is being urged for when those students reach middle school.

Administrators believe they've learned from the district's older Spanish dual-language program that a lack of preparation for the middle-school level could detract from a successful elementary school program.

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Teresa Hill, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and staff development, suggested to school board members Tuesday that this is the best time to start some long-range planning for both language programs.

The district also should keep close tabs on the funding of the federal grant which made the Chinese immersion program possible this year, Hill added. The grant committed $300,000 per year for five years in matching funding.

This year, only kindergartners and first graders at Barbara Rose School in South Barrington are in the program, in which half their classes are taught in English and half are taught in Chinese by native speakers.

"They have, from day one, spoken only Chinese to their students," said Kathryn Wolfkiel, director of the program.

The plan is for participating students from kindergarten through fifth grade will learn social studies, art and music in English, and math and science in Chinese. Because of the extra time involved in learning new Chinese characters, educators believe using the language would slow down the teaching of social studies more than math or science, Wolfkiel said.

A general goal of the federal grant is that the students would be able to carry on learning Chinese through their senior year of high school, and then have the option of continuing their Chinese studies for four more years at the University of Illinois.

District 220 already is teaching Chinese in middle school and high school as well, but in a more traditional way.

The school board also heard a progress report this week on the district's Spanish dual-language program.

Like the Chinese immersion program, it's an effective way to make native English speakers bilingual, administrators said. But test score data also shows it's helping native Spanish speakers close the achievement gap in reading and math -- more effectively than any other method of teaching English.

The dual-language program consists of classes made up of with half native Spanish speakers and the other half native English speakers.

In the early years, 90 percent of the curriculum is taught in Spanish and 10 percent in English. But the proportion gradually shifts until it reaches 50-50 by fifth grade.

Board Member Penny Kazmier expressed her desire that special attention be put on the social-emotional well-being of students in both the Chinese immersion and Spanish dual-language programs to insure they not feel isolated in the school buildings where they're housed.

Hill said there will be efforts made so that the students have equal access to all other programs offered by the district.

The next challenge is to improve two programs that have started so strongly.

"How do we take something that's outstanding and make it even better and have it meet everyone's needs?" she asked.

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