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District 833's planned high school Spanish immersion program moving forward

In the fall of 2013, the first class of Spanish language immersion students, now in seventh-grade at Cottage Grove Middle School, will enter high school.

Parents of Nuevas Fronteras students, with kindergarten through fifth-grade at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove, asked the district for a high school program. After the proposed high school program was laid out at a Feb. 9 workshop, the parents said they were relieved that board members responded positively.

With the decision slated to offer two courses a year at Woodbury High School, the plan is expected to be approved at Thursday's School Board meeting.

The immersion program is for English-speaking students whose parents who want them to be bilingual.

Sixth- and seventh-grade Spanish immersion students are taking language arts and social studies in Spanish at Cottage Grove with 80 percent of eligible students participating in seventh-grade and 53 students in sixth-grade.

Busing is provided from around the district but is not part of the program slated for Woodbury.

In a survey, 80 percent of Nuevas Fronteras parents indicated they are interested in having their children progress to high school and continue with two courses a year in Spanish.

Principal Linda Plante said bilingual teachers have been hired to teach language arts and social studies courses and also teach other classes in English.

One of the problems in finding bilingual secondary teachers is that they need to have high levels of Spanish proficiency, Plante said.

Fortunately for the district, new social studies books will be introduced in 2013 making it easier to get Spanish versions of the text, a one-time cost, according to Rick Spicuzza, district assistant superintendent and director of curriculum and assessment.

Classes will only be offered if they meet enrollment levels of traditional classes. If 80 percent of immersion students progress to Woodbury, about 50 students a year would be participating.

Cottage Grove Middle School used $3,000 of the school's budget and $3,000 from the district, over two years, to buy Spanish literature.

Each district school gets $9 per student for media and the money for immersion students would be used to buy Spanish literature at Woodbury. An additional $68 per immersion student in needed for the media center and classroom libraries.

There is an additional cost of $1,000 per teacher to develop curriculums.

If advanced placement social studies classes are offered, additional teacher training is needed for $1,000 per teacher. The average cost of an AP book is $150.

Parent surveys also include comments that indicate the majority want the program to be at East Ridge High School, "which is a more natural fit for the feeder system," said one parent.

"We prefer East Ridge. It should be a discussion and not a mandate," said another.

Parents who said their children would not be participating, listed the failure to have the classes at East Ridge as the reason.

Board member David Kemper, who has one child in Spanish Immersion, asked why the program could not be at East Ridge.

Enrollment at East Ridge is closed, Spicuzza said, because there is no room.

"It's not about bricks and mortar," said board member Ron Kath. "I'm happy to support this."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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