Board should vote si or shide for Spanish, Chinese immersion program

by:  SUBMITTED FILE PHOTO The Lake Oswego School District’s Mandarin PreK immersion program, shown here during a special program earlier this year at Palisades Elementary School, is providing valuable language experience to students at a young age.

Parents, do you want your young children or grandchildren to be bilingual in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese - before they reach sixth grade? School district leaders need to hear from you. At their upcoming session (May 23), the Lake Oswego School Board should commit to world language program for grades K-5 in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. These cost neutral programs will benefit our school district, our community and especially our young children.

The demand for these programs has never been greater. LOSD now offers Spanish immersion classrooms for PreK and Kindergarten, and Mandarin immersion classrooms for preschool/PreK. Classrooms have wait lists heading into fall 2011.

Young families have moved to our area because they are attracted to these programs in preschool. The program has drawn tuition paying families from neighboring districts. Likewise, families have left this community due to the lack of commitment to elementary world language programs for grade 1 and beyond. It is time to commit to language immersion programs for K-5 and give young children a world of new opportunities.

The logistical opportunity has never been better. With the difficult decision district leaders made to close Palisades, Bryant and Uplands elementary schools in coming years, one-third of our elementary school families are already in the planning process to move to another neighborhood school. Many of these parents may choose to enroll their children in a language immersion classroom. Twenty-seven teachers have opted to retire in response to the retirement incentives offered by the school district. Our administrators will be rehiring for these positions - a perfect opportunity to recruit bilingual teachers. Administrators are designing new building configurations to accommodate grade levels K-5 under 'Scenario B' - it's a great time to reassign a few classrooms for Spanish immersion first graders and a Mandarin kindergarten.

Our five-year-old son Charlie is now enrolled in the tuition-based LOSD Mandarin PreK immersion program. We are so grateful for the incredible experiences he has had this year. Charlie looks forward to school each day. His teacher brings over a decade of experience in Portland-area language immersion schools. Our district was able to attract this nurturing educator who has provided wonderful learning opportunities for all her students. One example was this past February, when Charlie's classroom hosted a Chinese New Year celebration. At this event all of the children at Palisades Elementary (not just the immersion students) participated in art and music projects devoted to this traditional Chinese holiday. Not only has Charlie had a really fun year, he has learned a lot of Chinese. It would be disappointing to lose such a program moving forward, and watch him forget all that he has learned.

It has long been our dream that our three children be brought up bilingual so that they could have opportunities in the world economy, and have all the brain benefits that bilingualism brings. Our family is so determined to give this gift to our children, we may leave Lake Oswego - a community we absolutely love, in order to enroll our children in a language immersion lottery elsewhere. I hope district leaders will have the vision to attract and retain families like ours by offering these innovative, cost neutral programs.

Sarah Howell is a resident of Lake Oswego.