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Natrona County school board OKs dual-language immersion in one school
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Natrona County school board OKs dual-language immersion in one school

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Forty-four kindergarteners will be able to spend half the day learning in Mandarin Chinese at Paradise Valley Elementary school beginning this fall — provided several conditions are met.

Advocates for dual-language immersion applauded after the Natrona County School District board of trustees voted Monday night for a program designed to take advantage of children’s ability to easily learn a second language.

It was a bitter victory, though, for some people who had championed the program for the past several months. Parents of 99 incoming kindergartners had signed a “first come, first served” enrollment list, according to officials.

About 20 people addressed the board during the meeting, many asking for programs in the three Casper elementary schools that had applied to host the program.

Jessica Sorensen said she so strongly believed in dual-language immersion she would consider having her son repeat kindergarten.

“I don’t want him to fall behind if he doesn’t have to,” Sorensen said. “As many people now that benefit from being bilingual, it’s going to be multiplied by the time our kids are older. And I just want to give him a fighting chance and be able to compete in a work force that’s going to be more of a global community than just a national one.”

Jennifer Deurloo, a member of the Wyoming Dual Language Immersion Steering Committee, commended the board — with one reservation.

“I do feel really bad that the board felt they could only start with one school,” Deurloo said, “because that’s not going to service all of the committed parents on the wait list.”

Trustees said they struck down a recent proposal to wait until the 2014-15 academic year to launch the program because they didn’t want to lose the momentum of the group that passionately pushed for dual-language immersion.

Another reason was a letter from Gov. Matt Mead dated April 8.

“I am excited by the possibility of dual-language immersion programs in our state,” Mead’s letter read. “When implemented correctly, these programs can provide fluency in a second language, and prepare students for the world in which they will live and work.”

It’s the “implemented correctly” part that the board weighed and debated.

The discussion grew heated Monday as trustees pondered whether they had had enough time to consider important options and implications: a dual-language school, a language-immersion summer school, examinations of programs around the nation, how students in other countries become bilingual, impacts on school of choice, unexpected costs and the displacement of teachers to other schools or grade levels.

Trustee Dave Applegate proposed starting Mandarin Chinese immersion in one school this fall. He acknowledged the push for the program was swift.

“But then again, that’s our job as an elected officials ... to respond to those who elect us,” he said, adding it’s possible to “study something to death.”

Applegate said state leader support includes a legislator who told him earlier Monday of plans to push for dual-language immersion programs in the next legislative session.

Meanwhile, school officials must work to meet the requirements the board approved.

A program at Paradise Valley this fall hinges on:

n A highly-qualified teacher hired by June 30.

n Written approval by May 24 from affected teachers for class sizes of 22 students each – a larger number than standard to account for potential attrition.

n A report including school staff and parent surveys completed after the first quarter to help the board decide whether to continue and/or expand dual-language immersion.

n An updated deployment plan that includes how students will transition into middle and high school.

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