A group of parents and educators in the Natrona County School District are hoping to start a program to teach elementary school in a foreign language for half of each day.
Students in dual-language immersion programs spend 50 percent of class time learning not just a second language but subjects such as math, civics and science — all taught only in the second language. They also spend a large portion of time learning English language skills and review all subjects in English each day.
A task force comprised of parents and educators seeks NCSD permission to find out if enough parents and educators are interested in starting a local program. The group plans a presentation to the district’s subcommittee for curriculum and instruction on Dec. 10.
Mark Mathern, NCSD’s associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, is part of the task force and believes the program would bring long-term benefits not only to students, but to the state.
“It’s innovative, it’s responding to some of the changes that we’re seeing internationally, and it makes us more competitive globally,” he said.
Utah in the vanguard
Utah leads a national movement for dual-language immersion programs, according to task force member Ann Tollefson, a consultant and retired NCSD foreign language educator.
The school district is part of a consortium of local education entities in 18 states called Flagship — Chinese Acquisition Pipeline. Across those states, 15,000 elementary school children — most of them in Utah — learn in Mandarin Chinese, French, Portuguese or Spanish.
Consortium membership means the district could take advantage of what Tollefson called “language in a box” — curriculum, materials, and help with recruiting teachers. They won’t have to duplicate anything, but won’t have to invent anything either, she added. In Utah, which provides dual language immersion in 77 schools, no teachers have been laid off because of the program, she said.
Research shows dual-language immersion students perform at least as well as, and often better than, other students both academically and on standardized tests, Tollefson said.
Task force member and parent Thea True-Wells is quick to clear up common misconceptions she hears about what dual-language immersion is.
It’s not a gifted and talented program, but appropriate for almost every child. Parents would have an option for their child to be in the program or not.
It’s also not part of a mentality of zealously pushing children, she added.
“The cliché is, ‘Yeah, they’re putting their babies in Mandarin,’” True-Wells said. “It doesn’t add to a busy day, it just changes it, and yet they get the gift of a second language.”
Bilingual students not only learn a valuable skill, they’re more culturally aware and competent, she said, adding research also shows learning another language also boosts mental agility.
People can find out more about the group and its goals by visiting the Wyoming Dual Language Immersion Program — Parental Task Force page on Facebook and the blog at casperdualimmersion.wordpress.com.