Dual-language immersion program proposed at Columbia School Board meeting

Monday, June 9, 2014 | 11:07 p.m. CDT; updated 7:29 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 10, 2014

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board got an extensive preview of a proposed dual-language immersion plan at its meeting Monday night.

If approved, the proposed Spanish and English immersion program would start for kindergarteners during the 2015-16 school year. Missouri Learning Standards would continue to be in effect and would be taught in both languages instead of just English. Kindergarten classrooms would have 20 to 22 students with half the students being dominant English-speakers and the other half dominant Spanish-speakers.

"Dual-language immersion prepares students to achieve academically and positions them to be successful bilingual citizens," said Peter Stiepleman, incoming superintendent and the current assistant superintendent of elementary education.

According to the district's data presented by Stiepleman, there has been an enrollment increase overall in the English Language Learning program, and more Hispanic families have joined the district. From 2010 to 2013, there has been an increase in proficiency in English Language Arts among ELL students but proficiency is declining among Hispanic students.

"The dual immersion is the most successful educational approach for children who come to school speaking a language other than English, such as many of our Hispanic children here in Columbia," said Lisa Dorner, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at MU. Dorner has researched dual immersion programs for the past decade.

Research shows that a dual immersion program would not just benefit students who are primarily Spanish-speaking, but it would help all youth in Columbia, according to Dorner.

"The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it and study that content material through the language," Dorner said.

By fifth grade, test results of students who went through the program show high academic achievement, bilingual proficiency and global awareness. Also, skills for students that go through the program include stronger self-control and attention skills and higher meta-cognitive and metalinguistic skills, according to research presented by Dorner.

Two models of the program were explained at the meeting. One model is called the "90/10" model and the other the "50/50" model. With the 90/10 model, 90 percent of the general curriculum would be taught in Spanish and 10 percent would be taught in English. With the 50/50 model, the curriculum would be taught in half Spanish and half English.

Teachers in elementary schools would need to demonstrate proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing in Spanish in order for the program to be successful, said Shelly Fair, ELL coordinator for Columbia Public Schools.

"The most important thing to stress on this proposal is that we don't anticipate budget increases," Stiepleman said.

If the program were to move forward, the district would start buying school supplies written in Spanish as well as English.

"I think innovation is about timing, and I personally think this is the right time, " said Chris Belcher, outgoing superintendent of Columbia Public Schools. "The populations are there. The interest from the community is there."

The board will hear a formal proposal later in the fall.

Other action at School Board meeting

  • Belcher said goodbye to his fellow board members in his last board meeting Monday night. Belcher will be replaced by Stiepleman in July.
  • Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren presented each of the district schools' specific maintenance and repairs for the summer, detailed in a slideshow presented to the board. The summer maintenance and repair costs are approximately $48 million, Boren said.
  • Linda Quinley, the district's chief financial officer, reviewed the 2014-15 budget. The budget was presented to the board for corrections in preparation for the June 19 board meeting, during which the proposed budget will most likely pass.
  • The board's meeting concluded with the review of budget amendments and the election of Tracy Davenport for the board's secretary position and Linda Quinley for board treasurer.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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