More Pasco children will get a chance to participate in a popular two-way dual immersion program with the opening of Barbara McClintock STEM Elementary School.
The Pasco School Board decided in a 4-1 vote Tuesday to add two kindergarten classes of mixed English and Spanish speakers to the school when it opens in the fall.
That means 24 more English-speaking students and 24 more Spanish speakers can participate in the program.
English-speaking students are paired with Spanish-speaking students through elementary and middle school in the dual immersion program, starting out in kindergarten.
Students act as models in their native language while learning from their peers. It serves as bilingual instruction for Spanish-speaking students and is an enrichment for English-speaking students.
“It’s a very powerful program for our second-language learners,” said Liz Flynn, Pasco’s assistant superintendent of instructional services.
The bilingual language program at Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School will transition to McClintock, starting with kindergartners next year.
The district may be able to add first-graders to the program in addition to kindergarten if the district can find enough bilingual teachers, Flynn said.
Parents have asked for expansion of this program since it began, Flynn said. This year, there are 66 English-speaking students on the waiting list. Last year, there were 45 on the list.
The program is based on entrance criteria and is not first come, first serve.
The district’s current dual language program opened with Maya Angelou Elementary School. Students in the program also attend McLoughlin Middle School and both high schools. There are two classes per grade.
About 500 of Pasco’s students are in the two-way dual language program. The first group of participating students are high school sophomores this year.
School board member Amy Phillips, who had suggested considering James McGee Elementary for the program instead, said she thinks McClintock looks like the best option. She said she didn’t realize McGee was seeing so much growth.
No matter where the program is expanded to, more schools will be needed in the future, Phillips said. Hopefully, voters will approve a bond for new schools in the next six years, she said.
School board member Scott Lehrman, who voted against the expansion at McClintock, suggested waiting a year before deciding whether to add the dual language program. Having a full year of school would give officials more information about the space needs of the school.
But Phillips said waiting a year isn’t going to change much and would mean that 24 more native English speakers would miss out on the program.
Marcia Stillwell, a Chiawana High School math teacher with four children who participated in the dual language program at Maya Angelou, encouraged the school board to expand the program, but to consider an east Pasco school.
“It really is an immeasurable opportunity,” she said.
Stillwell said it’s been of great benefit to her children and also helps native Spanish speakers retain their Spanish as they learn English, making them truly bilingual and biliterate.
Having that program in a low-income east side school could help draw more parent and community support to that school, she said.
The district tried to expand the dual language program when Virgie Robinson Elementary opened, but had to close it because not enough English speakers were willing to participate, Flynn said. Parents of native English speakers did not want to have their children bused across town, since most lived on the west side of town.
Phillips asked if the program’s popularity and success could allow an east side dual language immersion program to succeed now.
Flynn said she couldn’t answer that, but the east side elementary schools also are overcrowded.