URBANA – The Urbana school board voted 4-3 Monday to start its dual-language program at Leal School and Prairie Elementary, and charged an administrative committee to provide more details about the new program by the Feb. 21 board meeting.
Dual-language classes teach both native English- and Spanish-speaking students in both languages. The district is creating dual-language kindergarten and first-grade classrooms because of a high number of Spanish-speaking students enrolled and expected for next year.
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 expressed concern that 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 in favor of locating it 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.
Next, a committee of teachers, administrators, parents and community members will look at whether the dual-language program can go full-steam ahead at both schools, with the possibility of creating two kindergartens and two first grades at each school.
The committee will also recommend at the Feb. 21 board meeting the percentage of time to be taught in each language.
The district is expecting more than 30 Spanish-speaking students for kindergarten next year, and Dimit said he'd like to see eight each in a classroom, with 12 English-speaking students. After first grade, English-speaking students who aren't bilingual won't be able to join the program because their Spanish proficiency will lag behind.
Dimit said he envisions the number of Spanish-speakers in those classrooms growing, or the classes condensing as dual-language students advance toward fifth grade.