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Parents ask for Spanish dual-language program at Casper school
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Parents ask for Spanish dual-language program at Casper school

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As Natrona County school officials craft a policy to approve future dual-language immersion programs, a group of local parents is revamping its efforts to advocate for a second such program in Casper.

Park Elementary School was one of three schools to apply for a dual-language immersion program when interest first surfaced here last year. Though the district this spring approved a proposal for a Chinese dual-language immersion program at Paradise Valley Elementary, and not Park's proposal for a Spanish dual-language immersion program, a contingency of parents and school officials are still passionate about the possibility.

"We are pretty excited and hopeful here," Park Elementary Principal Dawn DeWald said. "Dual-language, to me, has always been an exciting opportunity that I think is out there for our children."

DeWald, in her first year as principal at Park, was formerly principal of two bilingual elementary school campuses in Texas. Park Elementary has offered a traditional Spanish language class to its K-5 student body for 11 years, she said.

"As a new principal, the first parents I met were those who said, 'Is it true you believe in dual-language immersion? Because we want Spanish,'" she said. 

With the support of the school's new principal and a school board that has expressed enthusiasm for the dual-language philosophy, Park parents crafted a task force to help draw interest to a Spanish dual-language immersion program at their school.

A Spanish immersion program would fit well into the Park community, said Nohora Groce, the parent of a kindergartner at Park Elementary. There, her daughter receives 90 minutes of Spanish instruction each week. 

The Natrona County School District Board of Trustees meets Monday to talk about standardizing its procedure for approving dual-language immersion programs. 

Groce plans to attend.

"So they know that we're still there, still interested," Groce said.

Park parent Melissa Martorano also supports a Spanish dual-language immersion program at the school, where her 5-year-old daughter, Bianca, enjoys what Spanish instruction she is already getting.

"Bianca just can't get enough Spanish," Martorano said. "She has an ear for it."

Park Elementary uses multi-age classrooms to use older students' knowledge to leverage younger students' progress. Pending district approval, DeWald said, the inaugural group of Spanish dual-language learners at Park could include one class of kindergartners and one class of first graders learning part of the day in English and part of the day in Spanish.

"The interest is pretty strong," NCSD's associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Mark Mathern, said of Park Elementary's proposal. "I think we’re close to, but not quite there yet, on the numbers of students we would need."

Mathern said board support for the dual-language concept is high, due in large part to enthusiastic parent efforts over the past year.

"You're seeing real positive comments from the board about how to make this part of our culture here in Natrona County," Mathern said.

At its meeting Monday, the board will give a first reading to its proposed policy to standardize the approval process for dual-language immersion programs. According to a draft of the policy, the board is considering requiring schools interested in a dual-language immersion program to demonstrate strong parental support, a positive consensus from the school, viable enrollment numbers and adequate available budget and staff resources.

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

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