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Parents turn out for meeting on Spanish immersion at Woodbury High School

Woodbury High School has taken the first step to bringing a Spanish immersion program to the school.

The high school held a public meeting with Spanish immersion parents on Thursday, May 12 to discuss the process and receive any feedback from parents. Reaction was mixed as some parents are concerned about students having to move from the immersion program at Cottage Grove Middle School to a program at Woodbury High School. Others said the program, not the building, is important.

"Right now these discussions are going to feel kind of funny because the program is not fleshed out yet," Woodbury High School principal Linda Plante said.

Spanish immersion is a program that serves non-Spanish speaking students. Currently Spanish Immersion goes through sixth grade.

At Nuevas Fronteras, founded in 2004, students in kindergarten through fifth grade are immersed in Spanish as they learn reading, writing, math, science, social studies, art, and health.

Currently, the oldest class of immersion students is now in sixth grade at Cottage Grove Middle School, where they take social studies taught in Spanish and a Spanish language class.

Once the current sixth-graders reach ninth grade in 2013, they presumably will move into a high school Spanish immersion program.

Plante said Woodbury is just starting the process of designing the program and identifying what it will look like.

"I have no preconceived notion on how this is supposed to look," Plante said. "There's some decisions we haven't made yet."

Outlining the process

The first step in designing the Spanish Immersion program at Woodbury will be to meet with parents and staff to develop the mission statement this July.

Some of the questions the mission statement will look at are: What would parents like to see from the pathway? What curriculum innovations should be developed? What courses should be offered?

Plante said the only thing that is known about the Spanish immersion program is that it will be a partial immersion program similar to that at the middle school.

The most common type of partial immersion program is taking one core subject, such as social studies, science or math, in Spanish and one high level Spanish class, Plante said.

However, Plante said they have made no decision on how many courses will be required.

The one other item known for sure is that the Spanish immersion program will housed at Woodbury and will not be replicated at any other district high school, Plante said.

The next step in the process is to tour existing Spanish immersion programs and other schools to see what courses are offered and how students are performing.

In the winter of 2011 Woodbury will begin identifying courses, the number of classes and develop a clear guide for grades 9 through 12 by April 2012.

By June 2012 Woodbury will begin hiring staff and offering staff development.

Plante said Woodbury would be looking for teachers who have dual licensures in both Spanish and a core subject.

Plante said she has already found a quality teacher who is licensed in both Spanish and social studies and has a fluency certificate.

She said she is hoping to hire him soon even though it is very early in the process.

"Sometimes you have to catch the fish as they swim by," she said.

In the fall of 2012 Woodbury will begin to look at the technical aspects of Spanish immersion such as graduation requirements, whether advanced placement classes will be offered or if students would have the opportunity for weighted grades.

By January 2013 students will begin to enroll and everything should be in place.

"The quality of the program is what brings in the students and entices kids to continue," Plante said.

Questions remain

Plante said there are many questions that she will be turning to parents to answer.

In addition to identifying courses and graduation requirements, Plante will be also looking to answer questions on whether or not complementary courses should be offered.

These would be essentially electives that are not taught in Spanish but could support the immersion courses.

Plante said they also need to decide whether or not those courses will be available for the rest of the school.

"We want to support and enrich immersion students and support and enrich other students in the building," she said.

Plante said another option that has been discussed and needs to be looked into further is whether or not students from other schools can simply come to WHS for their Spanish Immersion courses but still attending their home school.

Plante said that might be difficult to pull off since transportation would not be provided and there is a certain amount of commitment for Spanish Immersion.

"There is a commitment that really has to be made," she said.

One of the overwhelming comments heard from parents during last Thursday's meeting was frustration of leaving the Cottage Grove Middle School feeder system.

Amy Double, of Woodbury, said it is going to be very difficult for students to leave their middle school friends to come to a completely feeder system.

Double said she was frustrated that District 833 did not come to parents before deciding on Woodbury as the location for the high school Spanish immersion program.

"This is where we don't feel like we have a voice," she said. "Leaving the feeder path is going to be very disruptive in the learning process."

However, Mike McCollor disagreed with Double by saying that the building doesn't determine how successful of a program it will be.

"It's the power of this program despite what building it is in," he said. "This is a great opportunity for us to build the program we want."

Plante said Woodbury is going to work very hard to make the transition a smooth one.

"We want the kids to be a part of the building," she said.

Additionally Double said she is nervous about the first class of immersion students being the guinea pigs.

"In the past the students have missed out on so many things that came after they began," she said. "This time around I would like to see WHS make improvements sooner."

McCollor said he very excited to have Plante in charge of Spanish immersion because of her passion for the program.

Plante said she is very excited about getting started with the process.

"I see Spanish immersion as a strengthening tool for an already strong building," she said. "We're going to make the best program we possibly can."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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