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A dual language program will begin teaching students in Spanish and English at Park Elementary School in Casper this fall.

Natrona County School District trustees unanimously approved the program at a meeting Monday night, creating the district's second such initiative in less than two years. A Chinese immersion program will enter its second year at Paradise Valley Elementary School this fall.

Because Park Elementary uses multi-age classrooms, the program will seat 20 kindergartners and 20 first-graders this fall, according to a district recommendation. Students in the program will spend half their day learning in English and the other half learning in Spanish.

Deb Michael, parent of a kindergartner at Park, said her daughter benefits from the 90 minutes of Spanish already taught once a week at Park.

"She loves it," Michael said. 

She said she hopes to enroll her child as a first-grader in the program.

"I strongly believe that knowing Spanish will give my children an opportunity and open doors for them that wouldn't be open otherwise," parent Cassidy Lach said. "And that's our job as parents."

Lach lives a block from Park Elementary, and said she hopes her 5-year-old daughter can enter the program in the fall.

More than 50 parents who attended dual-language informational meetings earlier this year will be entered into a randomized computer system to determine which 20 incoming kindergartners get seats in the Spanish program, NCSD Curriculum and Instruction Director Mark Mathern said.

Children of parents who did not already attend an information session cannot participate in the Spanish immersion program this fall, Mathern said.

"For that first group of students, you know, you need pretty actively engaged, knowledgeable parents," Mathern said of the new program. "[Joining the program] is a pretty big decision."

Parents sign a form committing to six years in the dual-language program before applying for the program. The form asks parents to confirm they understand children enrolled in a dual-language immersion will remain together from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Trustees approved $15,425 to start the program at Park, according to the board's recommendation Monday. The district will hire one Spanish teacher for the program.

School officials are still searching for another Chinese-language teacher to expand Paradise Valley's Chinese dual-language immersion program this fall, Mathern said.

Mathern has said he hopes the district can add a new teacher and new class of kindergartners in its Spanish and Chinese immersion programs each year until the district offers K-12 dual-language immersion programs.

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Reach education reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

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