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Casper school dual-language immersion proposal enters critical phase

Casper school dual-language immersion proposal enters critical phase

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Next week figures to be pivotal in efforts to launch a program in Casper in which elementary school students spend half the day learning in a second language and the other half learning in English.

Natrona County School District officials say there are enough interested parents to start dual-language immersion programs in three elementary schools this fall. The big question is: Will there be enough money and resources?

There's also the issue of some parents expressing concern that the program will create negative impacts on the schools' curriculum and structure.

Those are topics the district's board of trustees will continue to address before possibly deciding during Monday's meeting whether to start a dual-language immersion program at one or more schools.

The board also may discuss funding the program during budget meetings Monday through Wednesday, district officials said.

Fort Caspar Academy parents have been particularly cautious about the proposal. Some worry that it will harm a school that's successful.

Bruchele Cleverly said she chose Fort Caspar Academy because it’s a “back to basics” school.

“I’m not sure it fits in with the vision of Fort Caspar and how it was established in the first place,” Cleverly said after a recent meeting of the school’s governing council, of which she’s a member.

She thinks there’s too much uncertainty about how the dual-language immersion program might affect the school.

“A lot of schools are struggling academically, and they need the structure and pace that program would bring in,” parent John Stoysich said after the meeting. But Fort Caspar already has that success, he added.

Stoysich believes an emphasis on math and science is critical to the United States competing with other countries. His children attend private Spanish classes after school -- a good time to learn a language, he said.

Stoysich also worries about social divisions between children and hiring and maintaining effective teachers. A smaller point to consider is the possible communist influence in teachers from China, he added.

Meanwhile, parent Megan Lockwood believes so strongly in the benefits of dual-language immersion that she would consider holding her child back from first grade next fall for a chance to start in the program as a kindergartener. A second language would complement, not detract from, the great education Fort Caspar offers, she said.

“You can learn the basics in any language,” Lockwood said.

Most parents approve of the program, according to principals at Fort Caspar Academy, Paradise Valley Elementary School and Park Elementary School, the three that applied to be considered for a program. Fort Caspar's governing council voted 10-5 to recommend a program this fall, according to its application.

The results of a survey conducted by the school district administration showed 92 of 96 parents would commit to a program in one of the three schools. Spanish was the most popular preference among parents who wanted a specific language (39.1 percent). Among parents who would enroll their children in either Spanish or Chinese, the number was 41.3 percent.

The school board discussed these questions and concerns at a March 25 meeting.

Trustee Pat Keefe said funds are tightening, and the board must weigh the costs and where money could be taken from to start a program.

Dual-language immersion would cost an estimated $16,925 to launch one kindergarten program in one school, according to the board.

Trustee Dave Applegate said he wasn't against dual-language immersion, but questioned starting programs in all three schools in the first year in order to serve all interested parents.

“I’d hate to have us start a program and see it fail because we have our resources spread so thin,” Applegate said.

Applegate said the most important ingredient to the program's success is the teacher.

Hiring options include local teachers and foreign government-sponsored work-abroad programs, according to the trustees. For example, the Hanban program provides Chinese teachers who typically return to China in two years. Officials said 250 Hanban teachers are currently teaching in the U.S.

Reach education reporter Elysia Conner at 307-266-0593 or Follow her on Twitter @ElysiaConner


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