BCSC exploring new immersion program

Classes targeted toward young students, teach children to speak English, Spanish

A new program being considered for some of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s youngest students will create bilingual learners.

Targeted to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, the program would create classes made up of half native Spanish speakers and the other half native English speakers, said Laura Hack, BCSC’s director of elementary education.

Two classes would be offered for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students beginning in the 2018-19 school year at one location that has yet to be determined, Hack said.

Under the proposal, students would be taught English and Spanish by a native Spanish speaker — while students would be immersed in Spanish for most of the day. Participation in the program would be voluntary and families would apply to have their students in the program.

“The ratio will be a part of the planning that will occur this school year, but we are considering an 80/20 model, or 80 percent of the school day being taught in Spanish and 20 percent in English,” said Jim Roberts, BCSC superintendent.

BCSC school board members considered the proposal Monday, learning about the academic, economic and cultural benefits for students and the community.

A 24-member panel made up of teachers, parents, administrators and school board members formed in January to research two-way immersion programs, said Gina Pleak, who will become the district’s director of title services July 1. Pleak participated in the research panel’s work.

The district sent out a survey in February that was distributed through social media and included in parent newsletters to determine interest. Of the 534 responses, 60 percent of survey participants indicated they would consider such a program for their children, Pleak said.

However, panel members decided more information was needed, specifically about how the program would work, she said.

That involved visits to Forest Glen Elementary School, part of the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township in Indianapolis, and Theodore Potter School, Indianapolis Public Schools, which have two-way immersion programs.

Parents who are interested in enrolling their children in the program would fill out an application with a minimal fee that would be required, Hack said. That fee has not yet been determined, she said. Applications for the proposed program could be available in January, according to the district’s timeline.

BCSC board member Jeff Caldwell said he supported the idea of the two-way language-immersion program, but wanted to see more information before making a final decision. Among his requests was the financial impact to the district.

“You guys have talked a lot about the data, but I’d like to see it,” Caldwell said. “We need to see the dollars.”

BCSC has applied for a grant from the Indiana Department of Education for up to $50,000 that would be used for planning, professional development and curriculum resources tied to the two-way immersion program, Pleak said. The district expects to hear back at the end of July as to whether it will receive funding, she said.

But even if the district doesn’t receive the grant money, Hack said the proposed program is still something officials would like to pursue. She said an initial estimate of the program would cost the district $30,000 annually.

Board member Robert Abrams wanted to know whether the two-way immersion program would be located at magnet schools such as CSA Lincoln and CSA Fodrea. Hack said those details are still being considered.

After the meeting, Caldwell said he’s optimistic about the program, but that he is required to be a good steward of taxpayers’ money. The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its July 17 meeting.

“This will be a terrific addition if we can make these numbers work,” Caldwell said.

Chad Phillips, BCSC’s director of title services, predicted bilingual students would perform better academically and the program could help students in their future careers.

“They’re going to have better opportunities as a career pathway,” Phillips said.

Roberts is familiar with implementing a two-way language-immersion program. The former Batesville Community School Corp. superintendent helped implement a similar program with 50 students learning Mandarin, the official language of China.

He said he expects a lot of interest from the local community since the Batesville school district is six times smaller than BCSC.

“It will be popular,” Roberts said. “My guess is we’ll have to expand the program.”

About the program

The proposed two-way language-immersion program being evaluated by the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. would be targeted to students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten levels starting in the 2018-19 school year. Two classes would be offered at each grade level under the district’s proposal.

Parents would need to fill out an application for the voluntary program to enroll their child. Those applications are expected to be available starting in January, officials said.

If you go

What: Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board meeting

When: 6:30 p.m. July 17

Where: Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. administration building, 1200 Central Ave., in the Terrace Room

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com