Dual language immersion program popular in Glendale

French dignitaries, including Senator Claudine LePage, visited the French immersion Kindergarten class, taught by Valerie Sun, standing next to children, at Franklin Magnet Elementary School in Glendale on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / May 15, 2013)

Glendale Unified is grappling with the expansion of its popular dual-language immersion program to meet the demand from students and parents.

The program, in which students are given a choice to spend at least half of their instructional day speaking and learning in a language other than English, was established in 2003. That year, 18 kindergartners spent 90% of their instructional time speaking and learning in Spanish at Thomas Edison Elementary.

It has since expanded to several more schools where students learn Armenian, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean or Spanish.

But not every language program takes students in their chosen language through 12th grade, and not every school where there is an established program has enough space to continue to house the classes.

“One of the issues we are dealing with is the overwhelming success of the program,” said Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan. “I think it far exceeded our expectation.”

District officials have considered adding more classrooms to Monte Vista Elementary to house the Korean program there. And three additional classrooms are needed at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary to make room for that school’s Japanese program.

Officials have also pondered moving certain grade levels to schools that provide more capacity for students.

A final decision on any potential changes will be made late next month.

When officials created a task force to establish long-term goals for the program last year, they surveyed parents whose children participated in dual-language immersion classes. Of the 871 who responded, the majority encouraged the expansion of the program.

However, during a special meeting about the dual-language immersion program held earlier this month, school board member Greg Krikorian said, “the wish and reality are two different things” when it came to the program’s possible expansion.

“We are committed to these programs, but at the same time, we have to be realistic,” he said. “I don’t want to expand these programs at the jeopardy of adding digital arts or gaming or math programs.”

Dual-language immersion classes have steadily gained in popularity over the past several years. At the start of the new school year on Aug. 12, almost 470 students were on waiting lists for kindergarten dual-language immersion programs, with more than 100 students each on waiting lists to take Spanish classes at Edison and Franklin elementary schools.

Assistant Supt. Kelly King said the program was originally offered to foster academic success. After its start, Glendale students performed better on standardized tests.

It was also established to combat declining enrollment. Many parents from outside Glendale Unified’s borders enroll their children in the district for the dual-language classes.

Currently, 23% of the more than 900 students in the dual-language immersion program come from outside the Glendale area, hailing from districts such as Los Angeles Unified, Burbank Unified or Pasadena Unified.

Glendale Unified officials will continue to discuss the dual-language immersion program at school board meetings over the next few weeks.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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