This fall 50 Spokane kindergarten students will learn in Spanish and English.
Spokane Public Schools will add two Spanish language immersion kindergarten classes in the Libby Center, where students will be instructed in Spanish half of the time.
“We’re trying to prepare our students to be global citizens and be competitive in the workforce,” said Jeannette Vaughn, director of the district’s Department of Innovation. “Our world is a shrinking place. Our world is getting smaller.”
Exactly how the instructional time will be split isn’t clear.
But the district plans to grow the program, adding a grade each year until Spanish immersion instruction is offered through the sixth grade. Eventually the program will move to its own dedicated facility, Vaughn said.
“When you’re in immersion, you’re actually learning to do your math and your science and your history in two languages,” Vaughn said.
The district has wanted to offer language immersion for years, Vaughn said. However, finding space for the programs, as well as funding, presented some difficulties.
Last year, the district budgeted for the creation of the two classrooms, Superintendent Shelley Redinger said.
“We had to find the spot, that was probably the hardest part,” she said.
School board President Deanna Brower said the classrooms will fill a need in the state’s second-largest district.
“It is unusual that a district our size does not offer a language program,” she said.
Vaughn, who used to teach at a German immersion school in San Diego, echoed Brower. She points to cities like Portland, where 10 percent of the students learn through immersion, as well as states like Utah, which leads the nation in language immersion programs.
“We really are behind in this,” she said.
Spokane Public Schools’ immersion program will be the only such program in Spokane County.
Hiring two additional kindergarten teachers will help the district lower K-3 class sizes, and inch it closer to meeting state class-size mandates for early grades.
The district decided to place the language program at the Libby Center because there was extra classroom space, and because the Odyssey center there already provides transportation for students.
After it was decided that the Libby Center could house the kindergartners, Vaughn said the board was ready to move forward.
“Once we got our facility folks on board, and they said ‘yes, we can make this happen’ … then the board felt more comfortable about it,” she said.
Last year the board of directors approved a budget that included about $75,000 for the program.
Brower said when the district updated its strategic plan about five years ago, community members asked for more choice options, including language immersion.
“We’ve been talking about language immersion for years now as being that next big step,” Brower said, adding “Starting a new program, it takes time.”
When parents were surveyed, Spanish was the most requested language. Mandarin was the second most requested, Vaughn said. Although there are no concrete plans, introducing more Mandarin language education is a district priority.
“Once we get this launched we really want to take a look at where we can start building a Mandarin program,” she said.
Vaughn hopes to recruit native Spanish speakers into the program. She said it’s critical that students have Spanish-speaking peers they can learn from.
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