Ogden schools promote dual-language immersion education
OGDEN, Utah (AP) — It was dress rehearsal in the gym at T.O. Smith Elementary School and a hesitant pair of apple trees stood onstage next to Dorothy, Toto and the Scarecrow.
"Throw the apples!" teacher and director Amy Dunn said. "Go ahead, throw them!"
The two little trees pulled Styrofoam apples that were attached to their shirts with Velcro and tossed them softly at their classmates.
It could have been any "The Wizard of Oz" production, but it wasn't — the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow all spoke Spanish.
Dunn said this is the first time T.O. Smith is putting on a dual-language play. The school is one of four in the Ogden School District that offer a Dual Language Immersion program.
The cast of about 25 first- through sixth-grade students put on shows in April.
"Seeing how excited they are, it's so worth it," Dunn said.
Dunn said most of the school's dual-language students were in the play. Because so many students were interested, there were five Dorothys, four Scarecrows two Lions, but just the one Tin Man.
Dressed as one of the Scarecrows in overalls with fake straw sticking out of them, fifth-grade student Keltin Thompson wasn't fazed at dress rehearsal with having to say his lines in Spanish since he is in the school's dual immersion program.
"I'm excited how we're doing the play, we're onstage getting everything ready and getting the whole play done," he said. "I'm excited everybody is going to like it."
WHAT IS DUAL IMMERSION?
Chad Carpenter, the district's assistant superintendent of schools, said Dual Language Immersion started at T.O. Smith and Bonneville elementary schools in the 2010-11 school year.
"At the elementary school level, students spend half their day learning in English and the other half in a 100 percent Spanish language environment.
"They're not teaching the language, they're teaching content in the language," Carpenter said.
The program is opt-in and, as of January, 429 of the 6,772 kindergarten through sixth-grade students in the Ogden School District — 6 percent — were enrolled in Dual Language Immersion.
As students moved through the lower grade levels and entered junior high, Dual Language Immersion was created at Highland and Mt. Ogden junior high schools this year. There are about 28 students enrolled.
Carpenter said the offerings are much slimmer than in elementary school, partially because it's difficult to find teachers who are fluent in Spanish and can also, for instance, teach calculus in it.
"We're looking at expanding that into ... some content classes, like Utah history ... if we have a teacher with Spanish-language ability we would look at that potentially," he said.
The Utah Senate passed a bill in 2008 that funded Dual Language Immersion programs in several languages, according to the Utah Dual Language Immersion website. Now, 159 schools throughout Utah have Spanish, French, Chinese, Portuguese or German dual language programs.
DUAL IMMERSION STATS
KUTV reported a recently released audit found the Utah State Board of Education mismanaged the Dual Language Immersion program between 2013 and 2017 because of a lack of oversight and accountability, and mismanaged more than $1 million.
In a copy of the audit posted online by KUTV, the State Board of Education concurred with the audit findings and outlined ways in which failings are being addressed.
The Ogden School District website touts "proven benefits" of Dual Language Immersion, such as greater cognitive flexibility, a better understanding of international cultures and academic performance as good as or better than their non-immersion peers.
Scores for Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence exams, better known as SAGE tests, provided by Carpenter appear to support this.
From 2014 to 2016, the average fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade Dual Language Immersion student scores at T.O. Smith and Bonneville elementary schools are higher than their general education counterparts.
For instance, current sixth-grade students in Dual Language Immersion scored an average of 8.1 points higher in science, 9 points higher in math and 20.3 points higher in language arts in SAGE tests in 2016.
But Carpenter stressed there could be other factors at play because those students are "typically pretty self-motivated" and have very involved parents.
"Those are factors we know, regardless of language acquisition, help students succeed," he said.
Once in ninth grade, students can take AP Spanish tests and start earning college credit through the Bridge Program in partnership with several Utah universities.
Carpenter said the district has no plans to expand its existing program, partly because of the difficulty in finding teachers. At the same time, Carpenter said, the elementary-level programs haven't reached capacity yet and schools haven't turned away any interested families.
"We see a constant interest," he said, noting the last meeting he attended for interested parents at T.O. Smith was standing room only.
The Ogden School District has other educational opportunities, like the new science, technology, engineering and math-focused New Bridge Elementary School, which emphasizes project-based learning.
Carpenter said it's not about whether a dual-language program is better; it's about giving people options.
"You have different interests," he said. "Some are driven by art, some science. It's more of a personal preference, but I wouldn't say one outweighs the other."
Regardless of test scores or high-level analysis, Carpenter said the purpose behind Dual Language Immersion is to benefit students educationally and socially.
At the "The Wizard of Oz" dress rehearsal, this was clear as a circle of Dorothys sat on the ground to put on the infamous ruby slippers, which were actually white shoes that had been spray-painted and covered in glitter paint.
One of them, fifth-grade student Isabel Carroll, said she didn't know many people outside of her grade before she got a part in the play.
"It's fun because it's getting to know new people, but it's also getting to pretend to be someone you're really not," she said.
While another Scarecrow practiced lines in Spanish nearby, another fifth-grade Dorothy named Jaida Simms chimed in. She was happy about getting to wear flat red shoes because she thinks of herself as a "tomboy."
"You should see the floor after we're done!" she said, brushing red glitter off her hands.
Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net
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via Education Week American Education News Site of Record April 28, 2017 at 01:39AM