Dist. 203 unveils dual language programs

 
 
Updated 1/10/2012 5:25 AM

Naperville Unit District 203 officials charted an aggressive course, Monday night, which could allow all parents the opportunity to start their children in a bilingual education program by 2017.

With the district's first class of Dual Language Learners ready to enter middle school in 2013 and no plan in place for continuing their bilingual education, the district sought the outside help of Carl Falsgraf, director of the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon. Falsgraf spent some time in the district and worked with staff in October. Monday night he presented his recommendation.

 

"You've really got an opportunity to do something special that will have a major impact on the lives of kids in this district, and I think it could have national impact," Falsgraf told the board. "I think you have the potential here, if done right, to create a national model and then people will be calling you and asking you to come talk to their board members about how to do this right."

By expanding the district's language immersion program through the high school years, Falsgraf said, he believes district students can achieve even higher academic results.

"The research is pretty conclusive that giving students an added language at an early age and getting high levels of proficiency will improve academic achievement even more," he said. "You may know your student is doing better than the student in the district next door but is he doing better than the student in Beijing, the kid in Shanghai and the kid in Seoul, Korea?"

To get the district rolling, Falsgraf recommended a five-year plan that sees the district adding 11 new language programs, so there is one in each elementary school, and third-graders are exceeding benchmarks by 2017. In the more short-term view, which sees the first of those 11 programs opening in 2011, the district staff will begin creating a survey to gauge community input, host a series of open house programs to explain the immersion program in March and present the board with a strategic plan and vision in April. the first phase would culminate with a curriculum being developed this September and the first two programs beginning in September 2013.

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Board members, while supportive of the program, questioned whether the quick turn around and the April goal were attainable.

"I clearly recognize we have significant work ahead, but we're starting at the top with Falsgraf)," she said. "This is the best. We need to look at the next 18-20 months and these next three months are critically important."

The district unveiled the Dual Language Learners program in 2008 with one kindergarten and first-grade class at both Beebe and Maplebrook elementary schools. As students advanced to the next grade level, an incoming kindergarten class was added at each location.

In 2010, a dual-language kindergarten class was added for the first time to Mill Street Elementary School, making a total of about 270 students enrolled throughout the three schools.

In each classroom, the English-dominant students receive initial literacy in English while Spanish-dominant students receive initial literacy in Spanish.

Beginning in 2008, the kindergarten and first grade students were taught 80 percent of the time in English and 20 percent Spanish and each year the English has increased. This year's fourth grade class and next year's fifth grade class will be taught at a 50 percent English to Spanish ratio.

Falsgraf said it the languages chosen for the expansion of the district's program doesn't have to be Spanish and suggested it could be Chinese, Japanese or even Polish, as long as the students have an opportunity to be exposed to the language.

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