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Enrollment in Lake Oswego School District is shrinking, and district leaders are looking for ways to attract and keep kids in public schools. This is particularly challenging because parents are aware of a variety of private options and many have the financial means to realize them. To compete with private schools, the school district has to demonstrate that it not only delivers solid reading, math, writing, and science curricula but also a rich array of offerings that do not end up on multiple choice tests.

A foreign language immersion program is a good place to start. Lake Oswego parents have asked the district for these programs. Research shows immersion programs drive academic achievement and, surprisingly, cost no more than regular programs to deliver.

This past January, I was part of a group of 68 Lake Oswego parents who submitted a petition to Superintendent Bill Korach asking the school district to offer foreign language immersion programs in primary schools. Parents made presentations to district administrators and the Education Program committee, a group charged with formulating recommendations to the school board on program offerings. The committee is scheduled to deliver a recommendation to the school board this month. The school board should then put a plan in place to address this gap in curriculum.

My eldest child will start preschool next year and we're considering several of the language immersion programs in the metro area. I want my children to have what I didn't have as a student in West Linn-Wilsonville School District - a real opportunity to become proficient in a foreign language. By that I mean having oral, reading and written proficiency. Experts agree the most effective way to do this is through significant exposure to a foreign language before age 12. The common program model is via foreign language immersion. In an immersion classroom at least 50 percent of the curriculum is delivered in a child's non-native language.

With bilingual learners, benefits extend beyond the ability to communicate in a foreign language.

'Research shows that immersion students' English skills are better than those of monolingual children. The same is true of performance in math and other subjects' says Carl Falsgraf, director of the University of Oregon Center for Applied Second Language Studies. 'Stimulating the brain with another language improves all sorts of related skills.'

Fluency in more than one language is a crucial step towards preparing adults to engage in a global economy. Lake Oswego is not the only district that has work to do with foreign language instruction. The United States is behind other countries in offering foreign language education. More than 50 percent of Europeans fluently speak a second language, but only 9 percent of U.S. adults are fluent in a second language (Christian, Pufahl and Rhodes, 2005). In this era of globalization, people across the world compete on a more level playing field. The difference between success and failure is the ability to communicate and understand.

Foreign language immersion programs are inexpensive. After initial start up costs, programs are often cost-neutral - sometimes they're revenue generators. You don't have to pay an immersion teacher any more than a monolingual teacher. Many districts have seen increased revenue due to increased enrollment. Grant opportunities from the US Department of Education and the Department of Defense become available annually. Such grants can help alleviate start up costs.

Resources in Lake Oswego go beyond the community's ability to supplement costs via private donations. Lake Oswego draws on a substantial talent pool of educators, parents and children to produce such excellent schools. We have the potential to build on that excellence by providing an innovative global curriculum.

Foreign language immersion programs allow students to be productive citizens in an increasingly interdependent world. Adding these programs to Lake Oswego schools would represent a significant and long term commitment from the district. Our children, and the global community with which they will engage, deserve no less.

Sarah Howell is a resident of Lake Oswego. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Editor's note: Nancy Duin, communications director for the Lake Oswego School District, responds: 'The school district is currently concluding a two-year review of existing academic programs, focusing on program improvements that promise to provide the most value for the available resources. The district's program committee, comprised of parents and administrators, made its recommendations to the school board on Monday, May 12. Prior to considering the implementation of new educational programs, the school board typically directs school district administration to undertake a research-based study of the program encompassing anticipated value and costs.'

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