Spanish immersion fits SKSD’s ‘changing’ demographic

The South Kitsap School District has seen an influx of Spanish-speaking students in recent years.

Superintendent Michelle Reid said that is part of the reason behind the decision to introduce a Spanish immersion program during the upcoming school year at Burley-Glenwood Elementary School.

“I think what we’re seeing is the demographic — even in the Port Orchard area — is changing just as it has in other states and communities around the country,” said Reid, adding that 11 percent of students in the district are of Latino heritage. “We want to make sure that again we’re preparing students for the best possible future.”

But Reid said the addition of the program also is part of a plan to bolster SKSD’s enrollment, which has declined for several years, and prepare students to “successfully enter post-secondary education,” which she said means being “career and college ready.” During a May 8 presentation to the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce, Reid said 46 percent of students in the district meet that benchmark. For the Class of 2020, Reid wants to increase SKSD’s average to 80 percent.

That means making strategic changes throughout the district, which includes expanded all-day kindergarten, increasing the number of Advanced Placement courses offered at South Kitsap High School, and adding International Baccalaureate and a Spanish immersion program.

“We recognize as the world is changing, the expectation as a global citizen is that our people are able to speak more than one language,” said Reid, noting that flight attendants at Emirates, a Dubai-based airline, are functional in 10 languages to accommodate passengers. “Whether you’re going into business, law, medicine or teaching, to have an opportunity to be bilingual is a real asset.”

The program is open to 24 first-grade students. Reid said they must apply by July 11 to receive priority consideration. If spaces remain available after that, Reid said SKSD will implement a lottery system to select students. While families from outside the district’s boundaries are welcomed to apply, Reid said she does not anticipate space being available to them.

Unlike many of the 28 other school districts that offer language-immersion programs in the state, Reid said SKSD’s program will not be tuition-based. She also said students will not be required to test into the program to gain acceptance.

“It’s about all children — no exceptions,” Reid said. “We don’t want any barriers to be in place for children to be able to participate.”

School officials say the benefits of language immersion programs have positive effects on brain development and intellectual growth. Research indicates that students gain flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language and a better ear for listening. Proponents of bilingual education say that students develop a greater understanding and appreciation toward people from different cultures.

“Spanish is a language that is very phonetically solid in a sense that the letters and sounds will help them with their English reading, as well,” Reid said.

She said Burley-Glenwood was selected because there is space in the 48,000-square-foot building, which was built in 1978. In addition to that, Reid noted that Burley-Glenwood’s Darek Grant was honored last fall as the Peninsula Regional Distinguished Principal. The school also was honored as a highest performing and high progress “reward school” in 2013 by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“We know a school that is going to have a new program is going to need a strong instructional leader and an experienced principal that can really help move the program forward,” Reid said.

Grant said he is excited that SKSD officials selected Burley-Glenwood to start the program.

“We have to look at what we’re doing to ensure our kids are ready for the next steps,” he said. “If we’re not changing, we’re doing a disservice to our kids.”

During an informational meeting June 25, Grant said some parents were considering other school districts before they learned SKSD would offer a Spanish immersion program. Schools in Bremerton and Tacoma both offer that program to elementary-school students.

“I can tell you that parents want it,” Grant said. “They were just so excited to have the opportunity.”

Students in the program at Burley-Glenwood will be immersed in Spanish from the start. Daily conversation, along with math, science and social-studies lessons, will be conducted in Spanish. Only reading and language arts will be taught in English.

“All of the homework will be in English,” Reid said. “We still want parents reading with their children.”

SKSD has hired Lucy McAlister, who was a math and language arts instructional coach in Tacoma, to teach the class.

“It just worked out well that we ended up getting just a wonderful teacher that is instructionally really strong but also has taught bilingual in California,” Grant said.

He said several staff members, such as the school’s music and physical-education teachers, have expressed interest in finding ways to integrate the class into their learning environment and others want to practice or learn Spanish. After all, a section of the class will be added each year at the school until it is offered through sixth grade. At that point, Grant said students could enter the proposed Spanish immersion program at Cedar Heights Junior High, which also is a candidate for International Baccalaureate accreditation.

“It’s just a natural flow,” he said.

Reid, who noted that SKSD students speak 14 different languages, said additional programs could be offered at other schools as soon as the 2015-16 school year if there is sufficient interest. She said that could mean another Spanish immersion program — or another language.


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