Committee in Urbana to recommend how to start dual-language classrooms

Committee in Urbana to recommend how to start dual-language classrooms

URBANA — A special committee has three weeks to suggest how to go forward with dual-language classrooms at Urbana's Leal and Prairie elementary schools.

The committee, made up of faculty, administrators and community members will look at how to implement dual-language now that the board has approved it and decided which two schools will have the program.

The board voted 4-3 Monday at a special meeting to put the dual-language program at Leal and Prairie, up to two kindergartens and first grades at both locations.

Dual-language allows native Spanish and English speakers to learn both languages in the same classroom.

The committee will study and recommend how many classrooms to start and what percentage each language will be taught in the classrooms. The committee will report back to the school board at its Feb. 21 meeting.

Joe Wiemelt, the school district's director of bilingual and multicultural programs, said he's getting started right away on creating that committee.

"My goal is to form the committee and have meeting days and times scheduled as soon as possible, preferably by the end of this week," he said.

Wiemelt brought the idea to the board's attention this year because the school district was required to create at least one new kindergarten and first-grade classroom because so many Spanish-speaking children are enrolled in kindergarten this year and expected next year.

Wiemelt told the board Monday that the district's early childhood center has 28 Spanish-speaking students expected to enroll in kindergarten in Urbana next year, and the county's Head Start has six Spanish-speaking students expected to enroll in kindergarten.

The district's contract with its teachers says kindergarten classes should have 22 students.

Board President John Dimit at the meeting suggested the district put eight to 10 Spanish-speaking students and 12 English-speaking students in each classroom. As children in dual-language classrooms advance toward fifth grade, Spanish speakers who transfer in can join those classrooms, but English speakers who aren't bilingual won't be able to because their Spanish would lag behind.

The committee will take that information and figure out how many classrooms to recommend creating.

The dual-language committee will also recommend how much time is taught in each language. Potential models allow for teaching kindergartners 90 percent in Spanish, 10 percent in English. By fourth grade, all students would learn half in Spanish, half in English.

Another model would allow for students to learn half in English, half in Spanish, from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Both models would allow students to learn Spanish from those who are certified in bilingual education and English from a teacher with an English as a Second Language certification.

The locations for the dual-language programs were decided after much discussion at the school board's special meeting.

Board Vice President Benita Rollins-Gay and members Paul Poulosky, Elaine Gehrmann and Peggy Patten voted for Prairie as a second location for the program. The district's bilingual program is already located at Leal.

Board President John Dimit, Secretary Ruth Ann Fisher and member Brenda Carter voted against locating the program there.

Dimit and Carter said they'd like to see the second dual-language program at Thomas Paine Elementary. Dimit said 90 percent of Prairie students walk there, while nearly half of students who currently attend Thomas Paine ride the bus. He said he's concerned about displacing students who could walk to Prairie as dual-language grows to become a kindergarten through fifth-grade program.

Fisher told the board she thinks the district could use another year of planning before implementing dual-language, and Carter said she worries that construction of the new early childhood center and renovations to Prairie will disrupt students already there. She was also in favor of locating the second program at Thomas Paine.

Poulosky led the argument in favor of establishing a second dual-language program at Prairie because it has room available now and will gain three more classrooms in 2013 after its renovation.

Gehrmann, who is a part of the committee that is redrawing elementary attendance boundaries, said she believes some of the students who walk to Prairie could be redistricted to walk to Thomas Paine.