For the first time since foreign language education was nixed from the elementary school curriculum in Forsyth County during recession budget cuts in 2010, three campuses will offer a dual language immersion program in 2018.
Brandywine, Cumming and Kelly Mill elementary schools will be the pilot communities to implement the program, a decision that was approved by the Forsyth County Board of Education at its April meeting after hearing feedback from a survey distributed to seven elementary, two middle and all five high schools.
Of 1,619 respondents, 88 percent said they support a dual language immersion (DLI) program in elementary schools.
“And, of course, immersion is very different than what we’ve had in the past,” said Michaela Claus-Nix, world language content specialist for Forsyth County Schools. “This is a great opportunity to have our kids truly become fluent in another language.”
Based on feedback, 63 percent of respondents favored Spanish as the immersion language.
“It represents the languages of the choice of the particular attendance zones of the schools,” Claus-Nix said.
Brandywine, located in southwest Forsyth, is 28 percent white, 29 percent, Hispanic, 30 percent Asian and 10 percent black — a total of 34 percent are economically disadvantaged.
At Cumming, which is in the city, 40 percent are white, 55 percent are Hispanic, less than 1 percent are Asian and 2 percent are black — 66 percent of the student body is economically disadvantaged.
Students at Kelly Mill west of the city are 80 percent white, 7 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 3 percent black, and 6 percent are economically disadvantaged.
“Especially for English language learners, it really will help close the achievement gap and teach rigorous content right from the beginning,” Claus-Nix said.
The Forsyth County News talked more with Claus-Nix about the program and its details:
Question: How does DLI work in the classroom?
Answer: Starting in kindergarten, two classes at each school will be split between native English and native Spanish speakers. Teachers will instruct Spanish literacy, math and science in Spanish and English language arts, social studies and all specials in English.
“It’s using the language as a vehicle, really, to reach academic content,” Claus-Nix said.
Q: Does it work?
A: DLI students typically develop greater cognitive flexibility, increased attention control, better memory, higher problem-solving skills and an enhanced learning of their primary language.
They also tend to be better prepared to collaborate and communicate.
The goal is that students speak in the target language by the 100th day of school.
Claus-Nix said the majority of DLI students perform at or above grade level in all areas by fifth grade.
Q: Who can enroll in the program?
A: Students must be zoned for one of the three schools, and students and parents must make a K-12 commitment. Initial participation is voluntary.
Q: What are the next steps toward implementation?
A: Educators will be trained, and principals will hire additional teachers who instruct in the program. Principals and assistant principals will attend a leadership institute in Delaware this summer that will pair them with a mentor principal who has gone through the program before. Mentors will be in touch with them throughout the entire first school year.
Principals and the district are also researching and purchasing materials.
Q: How can parents get more information?
A: There will be parent information nights held next spring.