Language school receives mixed review

Superior parents are split about a district plan to convert an elementary school to teach in a foreign language. A group of administrators and school board members is holding community meetings to gauge parental interest in sending their kids to ...

Superior parents are split about a district plan to convert an elementary school to teach in a foreign language.

A group of administrators and school board members is holding community meetings to gauge parental interest in sending their kids to a language immersion program.

Parents at a Tuesday night presentation on the concept offered a mix of concern and support for the idea.

Immersion schools are taught completely in a foreign language to ensure students learn the language completely. The program is designed to produce students fluent in a second language while improving their efficiency in other curricular areas, said Janna Stevens, Bryant Elementary School principal.

English is introduced into an immersion school's curriculum starting in the third grade and is phased in until the second language is limited to few hours a week by high school.


This fall a team of administrators and curriculum committee members visited language immersion schools in the Twin Cities to observe their programs. In November, the group received school board approval to explore parent interest in starting an immersion school in Superior. They've been meeting with parents of preschoolers since January to gauge support for the concept.

About 20 parents have expressed an interest in signing their children up for a language immersion program.

If the language immersion committee receives interest from 50-60 parents of 2009-2010 first graders, they will have enough interest to approach the board for final approval. If the board approves the measure, the group would make plans to offer the program and hold informational meetings explaining the program for community groups, said board member Mary Klun.

There's no sense educating the community about the immersion school unless the board approves it, she said.

Parents thought otherwise Tuesday night.

The community needs a chance to discuss this concept, and community members need more information about the long term results of language immersion programs, said Mary Fonger, Bryant parent.

It would be a concern if the board makes a decision about offering a language immersion program based on the interest of 60 people because the decision will affect the entire community down the line, she said.

"I think the concept is good, but I just don't think Superior is ready for that yet," she said.


The presentation offered a lot of information, but not enough facts, Fonger said.

Administrators presented information about how students perform better in language immersion programs and showed a video of students attending a language immersion school in the Twin Cities.

But parents wanted information about how language immersion students perform after leaving the school and how many attend college, they said.

They expressed concerns about how the district will ensure it hires quality teachers for the program and how it will displace students to other schools. They questioned whether focus on starting a language immersion school would take away from other efforts to improve curriculum in the district. Why not focus on music, technology or physical education programs, people asked.

Not offering a language immersion program won't solve childhood obesity, Klun said.

Those problems will still exist regardless if the district offers an immersion school, said Superintendent Jay Mitchell said.

Others were concerned about parent involvement at the school and how parents can help with homework.

Parents at immersion schools are highly involved in their children's education, Mitchell said.


Once the district has found interested parents, it will invite Twin Cities immersion school experts to meet with the parents whose children would attend the school. They'd talk about parent involvement at that time, he said.

If parents were worried about homework they could chose not to send their child to the school, he said.

"That's why it's a choice," Mitchell said. "It gives you, as parents, a choice."

The presenters also talked about the cost of offering an immersion school program. Startup costs include resources for the library and classroom, but no additional teachers. The classroom teacher positions would be filled by attrition. Support staff members wouldn't be laid off and would work with students using the English language. Busing could have a financial impact depending on what school is chosen for the program, he said.

While some parents have many concerns about the concept, others are only wondering when their children can start.

"I'm totally for it," said Michelle Gustafson. If she could have signed her two young children up for the immersion program Tuesday night, she would have, she said.

People need a second language to succeed in the world today and being immersed in a language at a young age is the best way to do that, she said.

A language immersion program can open students' minds to understanding culture, she said.

Helping her kids with homework wouldn't be an issue of concern for Gustafson. "Part of being a parent is to learn with your kids," she said.

Nicole Glonek attended the meeting to learn more about the concept.

"We're always looking for new educational opportunities for our kids and this sounded like something that could be interesting," she said. "I hope they can find a way to get it going. It would be a good opportunity for everyone."

Depending on what interest parents show at the remaining meetings the committee will make a recommendation to either proceed further or kill the idea, Klun said.

If the project is eventually approved by the board an immersion school would likely start in September 2009 with two classes each of kindergarten and first grade.

If the district begins a language immersion school in 2009, it will have to be at least a five-year commitment to see the first students through the program, Stevens said.

"Change is hard for all of us sitting in this room," she said. "It's about that forward view. It's not about what our 5-year-olds need when they're 6. It's about what our 18-year-olds need."

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
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