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Thanks for not shutting the school door

We want to thank Lake Oswego School Board members Bob Barman and Teri Oelrich for encouraging LOSD administrators to keep studying elementary world language programs.

Bob and Teri, thank you for your willingness to visit Minnetonka, Minn., at your own expense. In Minnetonka, language immersion programs have drawn hundreds of young families, making it the only bright spot for real estate in the St. Paul/Minneapolis region. Immersion programs were implemented in 2007 at no additional cost to the school district. Minnetonka is a school district similar in size and demographic to Lake Oswego.

For young parents today, it's about jobs. We want to ensure our children are prepared to find jobs in the new global economy. In the decades ahead, 80 percent of global economic growth will take place outside the United States. More American children need the opportunity to learn a second language in order to compete for job opportunities that may be more limited in the future.

We want the brain benefits that bilingualism brings. Decades of research demonstrate that children who are bilingual score higher in areas like critical thinking, because children who know two languages are actively using the brain's 'executive control system.' Using two languages essentially is a form of mental exercise. Bilingual speakers have been shown to perform better on a variety of cognitive tasks. One study found that dementia set in four to five years later in people who spent their lives speaking two languages instead of one. Preliminary evidence shows that being bilingual may physically remodel parts of the brain leading to important changes in brain structure.

We want to find a way to attract young families to Lake Oswego. According to the LO School District's analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census, in the last decade our community has been losing its population of young children, including a 14.7 percent decline in children under age 5. As a school district, we need to find a way to combat declining enrollment. Elementary second language programs that will give children an opportunity to become bilingual will attract young families to Lake Oswego. It will help our school district retain students who otherwise would attend private schools.

We want our school district to be the best that it can, to be innovative and look toward the future. Parents understand that the transition to a middle school (Scenario B) will take up much of the administration's time this year. However, this program has already lost one year of study and development due to Scenario B. As a community, we need to look toward the future and decide 'who do we want to be.' Do we want to stick to the status quo as districts around us update their program offerings, or do we want to be innovative and get our children ready for the global economy?

The Elementary World Language - Parent Committee will focus on challenges administrators have identified, including staff time, fitting elementary world language into the existing program model, class size concerns, finding teachers and student attrition. We will present these findings to administrators and school board members. We hope district leaders will be open to additional ideas and solutions. We ask that they give these suggestions thoughtful evaluation and consider even an incremental step forward heading into the 2012-2013 school year.

Sarah Howell, Lake Oswego, submitted this on behalf of the Lake Oswego School District Elementary World Language - Parent Committee.