MISSOULA — When the 2013-14 school year begins, 40 students at Paxson Elementary will pioneer a Spanish immersion program that is being launched by Missoula County Public Schools.
The students, 20 kindergartners and 20 first-graders, will be the first public school students in all of Montana to experience a dual language immersion program.
“This is a big deal, and we are really excited about it,” said Kelly Chumrau, Paxson Elementary principal. “This is not happening anywhere else in the state in a public school.
“It will be an adventure.“
Both the kindergarten and first-grade classes have about 80 students each, but only half of the student enrollment in those classes will participate in the language immersion program, Chumrau said. The reason, she said, is that families should have a choice about participating in the program.
The language program will continue each year as students advance into grades 2 through 5.
Although other language models were researched, including Chinese and French, MCPS decided to implement a Spanish immersion program for many reasons, one of which is because there are more high-quality Spanish educators and learning materials available to create a sustainable and dynamic program, Chumrau said.
At Paxson, instruction will be divided between two classrooms — one English and one Spanish. The English-speaking teacher will use half of the instructional day to teach English language arts and literacy skills, while the Spanish-speaking teacher will use the other half of the instructional day to teach Spanish literacy and mathematics.
Social studies and science will be taught in both classrooms by both teachers.
The goal of the program is to maximize students’ proficiency in a second language, develop students’ ability to work in multiple cultural settings, and provide a rich academic environment and culturally diverse experience, said Lesli Brassfield, MCPS director of public affairs.
Paxson families who are interested in the program must apply and students will be selected by drawing.
Starting a brand new curriculum always comes with challenges, Chumrau said.
“Our community has to trust us, be willing to take a risk and understand we will all need to be flexible with the challenges,” she said. “This is so new and different that it will likely have its challenges.”
Chumrau is particularly excited about the model MCPS has signed on to because it builds language fluency and an internalization of the language from an early age.
No jobs have been lost in the adoption of the program, and a new position for a Spanish teacher has been added to the school, Chumrau said. In all, two teachers will be teaching the language immersion program.