U-46 will expand dual language program

 
 
Updated 2/1/2016 9:06 PM
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Elgin Area School District U-46 is expanding its dual language program to middle schools next school year, officials said Monday.

Abbott, Ellis, Kimball, Larsen and Tefft middle schools are slated to implement the 80:20 Dual Language Program during the 2016-17 school year. "80:20" refers to the youngest students starting out with 80 percent of their instruction in Spanish and 20 percent in English. The Spanish-language portion is reduced by 10 percentage points each year from kindergarten through third grade until the split reaches 50-50, where it remains through sixth grade.

U-46 administrators presented their plan to expand the program into seventh grade next year to the school board Monday night.

"We have been preparing our teachers for the last two years," said Suzanne Johnson, U-46 assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.

Officials estimate it will cost between $200,000 and $600,000 for resources and teacher training to implement the program.

The state's second-largest school district serving more than 40,000 students is 52 percent Latino and 50 percent of students are native Spanish speakers, said Annette Acevedo, U-46 director of the English Language Learners program.

The district implemented dual language programs in prekindergarten through second grade at 29 elementary schools starting in the 2010-2011 school year. Since then, the program has expanded from 275 students to 8,382 students in 33 schools this year getting instruction in English and Spanish, officials said.

This year, native Spanish-speaking students who qualified for English Language Learner services are receiving dual language instruction in prekindergarten through sixth grade.

Native English speakers and English-dominant students also participate in the dual language program for enrichment in kindergarten through fifth grade in "two-way" dual language classes. These classrooms are made up of both Spanish- and English-dominant students giving them the opportunity to learn each other's languages and cultures as they continue developing their speaking and literacy skills, officials said.

Students in such programs are expected to perform in both languages as well or better than their peers on a range of metrics, including overall academic achievement, problem-solving ability, self-esteem, cross-cultural understanding and standardized testing.

"Dual language instruction is the only program proven to close the achievement gap between English Language Learners and their peers, and it offers English-dominant students a head start on bilingualism, preparing all students for an increasingly global world," Acevedo said.

Acevedo said that by the end of first grade, 87 percent of dual language students read at or above grade level in their native language, while more than half the students in both groups are reading at grade level in their second language.

Dual language students also are scoring above the national average in math and reading on tests in both languages, she said.

Nearly one-third of seventh graders ­-- 807 students -- are expected to participate in the dual language program next year. It will be rolled out to Spanish-speaking students first and then to English-dominant students the following year. Officials said they will conduct middle school informational meetings for parents at each of the five middle schools.

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