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Article updated: 1/30/2013 5:50 PM

Glen Ellyn Dist. 41 rolling out new language programs

By Christopher Placek

All first-graders and some kindergartners in Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 will be learning how to speak Spanish starting next school year as part of a multiyear foreign language instruction rollout at district elementary schools.

Under a plan approved unanimously this week by the school board, first-grade students at the district's four elementary schools will receive Spanish instruction for 30 minutes every day, and kindergartners at Churchill Elementary School will participate in a 50-50 "dual language" program in which lessons will be taught half in English and half in Spanish.

District officials say the classes will help students with critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration skills needed in today's "global society."

"One of our major reasons for doing it is we want to get students ready for 21st century employment opportunities," said Katie McCluskey, director of bilingual/ESL services. "We want to make sure they have the global flexibility of language."

Teachers and administrators have been researching the possibility of foreign language instruction since August 2011 after the district received a state-funded $13,000 arts and foreign language planning grant.

The district plans to expand foreign language instruction by one grade level every year over the next five years. McCluskey said research shows that's the most effective way to implement a new language program because of the curriculum changes that will take place.

The phased-in foreign language program at all elementary schools is expected to cost $2.2 million over five years, mainly to hire two new Spanish teachers every year.

The dual language program will cost $42,500 annually. It is expected to eventually replace the district's bilingual program hosted at Churchill, which is for native Spanish speakers throughout the school district.

The new program will combine students who are native English speakers and native Spanish speakers. Officials say it will help English speakers become highly proficient in a second language and close an achievement gap for non-English speakers.

Students in the new program will be from Churchill, but if additional spots remain, there will be a lottery districtwide, McCluskey said.

She said officials don't foresee the need for hiring additional staff for the dual-language program. As both foreign language programs are implemented on the K-5 level, officials will have to make changes to the curriculum at Hadley Junior High School, McCluskey said.

Currently, junior high students have the option of taking a foreign language -- either Spanish or French -- but it's not mandatory.

District 41 is a feeder district for Glenbard High School District 87, so McCluskey said administrators from both districts have been talking about the foreign language program since it first was discussed in 2011.

Officials also made site visits to school districts offering foreign language instruction, including West Chicago, Arlington Heights, Barrington, Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village and Oak Park.

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