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The School Board will decide on Monday if it should launch an immersion program in Metzger
by: Jaime Valdez Jordynn Timberlake and Keahlani Pabro  work on a project in Shoshanna Homan’s kindergarten class at Metzger Elementary School on Tuesday. The Tigard-Tualatin School Board is considering a proposal to start an immersion program in the school where students would be taught in both English and Spanish.

METZGER - In Shoshanna Holman's kindergarten class at Metzger Elementary School, posters of words in English and Spanish line the walls.

'Grandma,' one sign reads, 'abuela.'

Holman is one of about two dozen teachers at the school ready to go if the School Board approves a plan next week to start a dual-immersion program in Metzger.

Staff at Metzger have been preparing since 2007 to launch a dual-immersion program, which would use both English and Spanish in lessons.

The district tried to launch the program four years ago, but opted not to at the last minute citing funding concerns.

'We are super, super excited,' said Kraig Sproles, principal at Metzger. 'Of all the elementary schools in the district, we feel that we are in the best position to implement it relatively quickly.

'It's exciting,' he added. 'And a little intimidating.'

If the School Board approves the plan at its board meeting Monday night, students who enroll in Metzger's full-day kindergarten class this September will be taught in a mixture of both English and Spanish.

Exactly how much of each language is still being decided, but Dan Goldman, director of curriculum and instruction, said it could be as much as 90 percent Spanish, with English instruction only in music and P.E. classes.

In the second year of the program, all-day kindergarten and some first grade classes would be taught in both languages. Each year the program would continue to grow, adding the following grade. Each year, the classes would slowly incorporate more English.

Goldman said that dual-language immersion gives English-speaking students the chance to become fluent in another language and helps non-native English speakers perform better in the classroom.

'Research shows it is the best program that we can offer to English language learners,' Goldman said. 'To quickly learn basic skills and concept in a native language and transfer those to English provides the best possible instruction.'

The plan has strong support from school staff, many of whom were hired four years ago because they are bilingual.

Carmenza Sarvay, who teaches first grade at Metzger, is a native Spanish speaker who learned English in an immersion program in Columbia.

'(A dual-language program) allows Spanish-speaking children to have exposure to their native language and learn all the academics in Spanish, which creates that strong base that they need in order to pick up the English language,' Sarvay told the School Board last week. 'It is very important to really have a base in your native language to develop other languages. I am an example of that. If I didn't know my native language I wouldn't have been able to learn other languages.'

'District is ever changing'

District officials are quick to point out that the district out-performs the state in nearly every measurable category, but the performance of non-English speaking students has remained a sore spot on the district's record.

And with demographics changing in the district - by 2015 students of color are expected to make up half the district and many of them will be Latino - the district is looking at closing the achievement gap.

'Our district is ever changing,' Goldman said. 'There are more and more students of color and Spanish-speaking students. To ignore the changing demographics and not provide the best education we can is wrong.'

At Metzger, where 40 percent of students speak Spanish already, the program is meant to help them assimilate into middle and high school where they will be expected to perform in English-language classes

Tigard-Tualatin is one of the few school districts in the area that doesn't already have at least one dual-language program, said Sloan Presidio, the district's director of coordinated education services.

'We lag behind many districts in the state in terms of what we are offering for language development opportunities for English speakers and our native Spanish speakers,' he said. 'Really any large district around the state already has these programs in place, and the districts surrounding us are expanding these programs.'

Last year the Beaverton School District opened a Chinese-language charter school, to go along with its Spanish charter school and dual-immersion programs already in place in schools across the district.

'Any of the programs offered in these public and private schools have substantial waiting lists,' Presidio said. 'We think we have a lot of opportunity to implement programs successfully in our district.'

The plan isn't without controversy. In the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, a program launched in 2010 was pulled after a year amid claims from the community that the program was financially unsustainable and that non-Spanish speaking teachers were unfairly replaced with Spanish speaking teachers.

The program was reinstated last month after the district decided to start the program in new schools set to open this fall.

Because much of the staff is already hired, the cost is expected to be low for the first few years of the program, Goldman said.

Costs for the first year are expected to be about $12,300. That number jumps to $26,600 in 2013 when the program is expanded to the first grade.

Title III funds and bond money will help pay for the program, Goldman said.

'We are lucky to have a bond that will help us replace English textbooks with Spanish textbooks,' Goldman said. 'We are talking about $9,000 for each year (in curriculum replacement). That's very small in the scope of things.'

The program would initially be open only to families that live in the Metzger Elementary School boundary, north of Pacific Highway and Southwest Greenburg Road, Goldman said, but if successful, the program is expected to spread to other schools in the district in coming years.

'This is a Metzger neighborhood program, but if they can't fill all the slots, then we would open up a certain number of spots to kids through the district,' Goldman said.

Interested in enrolling your kindergartner in the program? Metzger Elementary School is hosting a kindergarten roundup, Tuesday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m.Metzger Elementary School is located at 10350 S.W. Lincoln St., in Metzger.

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