Wake County proposes Spanish immersion program for Hodge Road Elementary

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

— The Wake County Board of Education on Monday, discussed the possibility of a Spanish language immersion program at Hodge Road Elementary to begin in the 2014-2015 academic year among kindergarteners.

The Dual Language Spanish Immersion Program at Hodge Road Elementary would be for native English speakers and students whose first language is the language taught in the program. For Hodge Road, that means Spanish.

Half of students’ classes would be taught in Spanish and half would be taught in English and content for science, math, literacy and social studies courses will be delivered in both languages.

The proposal also includes establishing a full Chinese language immersion program at Stough Elementary in Raleigh, which means students would learn all core content in English and Chinese.

The proposal, presented by Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore, Assistant Superintendent Todd Wirt and Senior Director of Magnet and Curriculum Enhancement Programs Beth Cochran, said dual immersion programs help non-English speakers as much as they help native English speakers.

With content in both languages, students with limited English proficiency can still understand and learn content to increase academic success, one of the reasons county officials chose the program for Hodge Road.

Higher scores

In the 2012-2013 school year, Hodge Road posted a 22.9 percent proficiency rate, meaning only 22.9 percent of the school’s students were testing at or above grade level.

The school also didn’t meet its’ growth targets and for more than 40 percent of the school’s students, English is not their native language.

“My students are not proficient in a language and so the dual immersion program would be building their language in Spanish at the same time they would be building their language in English,” said Hodge Road Elementary principal Debra Pearce, who has been discussing the possibility of the program for the past two years.

“I’m elated that my children are going to have this opportunity,” Pearce said.

The staff’s presentation to the school board called the proposed dual program at Hodge Road a “perfect match … with high LEP population and desire to attract non-LEP students to the school.”

And although the county didn’t break out how many of Hodge Road’s LEP students speak Spanish, the presentation noted Spanish was an important tool for an increasingly diverse country.

The presentation cited research by the Pew Research Center that found Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the United States.

According to the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey, about 11.4 percent of Knightdale residents speak Spanish.

Pearce estimated about 52 percent of her school’s student population speaks some level of Spanish. Almost all of her LEP students speak Spanish, too. She said the school has three students who speak Russian, one student who speaks Creole and another student who speaks Arabic.

Taking cues

The county already has a full Spanish immersion program at Jeffreys Grove Elementary School in Raleigh, which is in its second year.

For the 2012-2013 school year, Jeffreys Grove had a 58.2 percent reading proficiency rate. The year before, the school met its growth targets.

Lisa Cruz, the principal at Jeffreys Grove, said the program has been well received by families at the school.

The full immersion program at the school is now in its second year, with kindergarten and first graders taking part. The plan is to add a grade each year as students progress through the school.

Cruz said it’s been impressive to watch kindergarteners who enter the school without speaking any Spanish become so comfortable with the language that they can express themselves in it by the middle of the year.

“I think it’s an incredible gift to give a child a second language,” Cruz said.

The county identified a Chinese immersion program for Stough Elementary because of its success in the Global Schools Program.

Currently, the county offers 15 Chinese programs: four in high schools, four in middle schools and seven in elementary schools. The county’s presentation said Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, outnumbering English speakers two to one.

The proposed Dual Language Spanish Immersion Program at Hodge Road would cost $44,950 a year to operate.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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