District asked to talk global talk

Parents hope schools can offer language immersion

Homogeneity has some Lake Oswego pre-school parents concerned. The world is getting flatter and the need for bilingual workers will only increase as their children grow up and enter the workforce, they say.

Shannon Milla, mother of two daughters who would begin school at Oak Creek Elementary School in 2011 and 2012, pointed out that her company highly values bilingual applicants even now.

'I feel that we really live in a globalized world,' she said. 'I see that now in the work place. I believe in 20 years it will be even more prominent.'

Milla, who was born in Oregon, lived with her husband Steve Milla in Washington, D.C., where she was able to see the benefits of her nieces and nephews attending language immersion school. Steve Milla also attended Spanish immersion school, and he wants the same for his daughters. 'It's not just about speaking another language. It's a cultural understanding,' said Milla. 'It opens your mind to different learning techniques. You have a new way to think.'

The two were among others who punctuated the program committee's Monday night presentation to the Lake Oswego School Board. Three other parents of pre-school kids told the board that a priority for them in choosing a school was the appeal of language immersion schools in Portland.

The committee recommended expanding the district's offerings to language immersion school, as well as six years of high school-level language credits beginning in seventh grade, more incorporation of language in K-12 and hiring more bilingual teachers. Other recommendations included expanding guidance counseling services, full-day kindergarten and better marketing of pre-K programs.

Todd Prager, who recently moved from San Francisco, said that he and his wife Jen hesitated in moving to Lake Oswego because they want to resist raising their two daughters in a homogeneous area. 'We realize that our children can no longer be isolated from other cultures and languages of the world,' said Prager. 'In an ideal world, we would have liked to raise our kids in diversity of San Francisco.'

Instead, they chose Lake Oswego for the quality of life and are hoping that there is some way they can still provide a diverse education for their children. Their oldest, who would enter kindergarten at Forest Hills Elementary in 2009, attended a Chinese immersion school in San Francisco. If they have to, they will consider sending their daughters to one of Portland's language immersion schools. Portland has a variety of opportunities including French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

'I feel like there are many parents out there that are going though the same thought process,' said Prager.

Sarah Howell thought so, too. Howell, a pre-school parent, organized a petition of 68 families asking the board to consider immersion schools in Lake Oswego. She said that parents who do not find that need closer to home will consider sending their children to Portland. Howell, who went through the West Linn-Wilsonville system, wants her kids to have an opportunity that she didn't have.

'We really haven't had people making that appeal in the past,' said Superintendent Bill Korach. 'We've always had a strong interest in foreign language but not necessarily this particular approach.'

The language immersion wish is one of many other things that the program committee recommended to the district for consideration during the coming year. As board members look at priorities, they will decide whether or not they would like the administration to study the option further. The priorities must be set in June, and will likely include two or three things for Korach and his team to focus on.