Newhall School District prepares for dual immersion program

District trustees and staff discussed the upcoming dual immersion information meetings during its most recent meeting of the governing board on Tuesday, Jan. 8. The first of the dual immersion meetings is set to occur 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14 at Old Orchard Elementary School.

Leaders of the Newhall School District are excited to unveil a new program that parents can learn about by attending one of the four upcoming dual language immersion information meetings occurring next week.

As NSD officials continue working to finalize the details of a dual immersion program that’s expected to hit the district in the 2019-2020 academic year, Old Orchard and Newhall elementary schools will each host two meetings next week in an attempt to inform parents about the benefits of such a program.

Old Orchard will hold the first meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday before hosting another from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to the district’s facebook page. Newhall Elementary will then host the remaining two meetings on Wednesday — with the first one starting at 8:30 a.m. and the final one beginning at 6 p.m.

“We started talking about (a dual immersion program) a couple years ago,” and tried to decide when would be the right time to move forward with it, said Dee Jamison, NSD’s assistant superintendent of instructional services. “As time moved on, we had more parents asking about a program,” and — at the same time — teachers and new hires were asking about it, as well.

“What really pushed us forward was when parents were now contacting board members asking those kinds of questions,” Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said. “Then when board members reached out to us, we said, ‘We have been talking about this,’” but part of the challenge was the district’s recent string of curriculum adoptions.

“Adding a dual immersion on top of multiple curriculum adoptions is a lot to ask of a teaching staff,” Pelzel said. But now, since all of the pieces have fallen into place, “it makes sense for us to move in that direction.”

While searching for curriculum in previous years, the district knew that it wanted to adopt materials that had parallel foreign-language components just in case they opted to develop a dual immersion program, Pelzel said, because the wrong curriculum — and the costs associated with adopting new materials — can end a dual immersion program before it has a chance to even begin.

In fact, when another local school district introduced the possibility a similar program being established at one of their school sites, stakeholders questioned the feasibility of such a costly program and said there are other programs the district would be better off pursuing, such as those that focus on science, social studies and math.

However, since Newhall knows its curriculum will suffice in a dual immersion environment, Pelzel, Jamison and other NSD leaders believe they will house a strong program that will avoid most of the pitfalls that other local districts have foreseen.

“We’ve essentially just been waiting to pull the trigger,” and that’s what happening now, Jamison said. “We brought it to the board and they were very excited.”

After approval, the district immediately began meeting with various stakeholder groups, “and everybody was on fire with excitement,” Pelzel said.

There are many different dual immersion models established throughout the country but NSD expects to use a 50-50 program model, meaning students will be learning 50 percent of the time in English and 50 percent of the time in Spanish, Jamison said. Parents have shared stories of their child who is learning English struggling to maintain their fluency in Spanish, which makes the district think it can provide more support to these students.

“Dual immersion is an opportunity for our native English speakers and our native Spanish speakers to truly develop equal levels of proficiency in two languages,” added the assistant superintendent. The data shows that reclassified English learners outperform their English-only speaking peers in almost every subject area, which leads the district to believe that its dual-immersion participants will as well.

The inaugural year of the program will begin next August at Old Orchard Elementary School with 48 incoming kindergarteners and 48 first-graders, “and then we’ll build beyond that,” Jamison said. “We will add (transitional kindergarten) the following year and you can add one grade level every time the students matriculate up.”

The program isn’t taking over Old Orchard, Jamison said. “Instead, it’ll be more like a school within a school, so we’ll start there and we’ll see what the response of the community is — and over time, we may want to expand based on their desires.”

The district feels it may have more than 96 students who are interested so it will use a lottery system to determine the applicants who will be accepted into the program and the district also plans to connect with the William S. Hart Union High School District so students can earn a Seal of Biliteracy, “which is a prestigious designation that will go on their high school diploma,” Jamison said, before sharing the many other benefits of the program — like an appreciation for culture, language and learning.

With so much excitement surrounding the program, Pelzel said he looks forward to discussing the much-awaited immersion program with the various stakeholders of the district.

Those who are unable to attend one of next week’s meetings can attend the district’s open house event on Jan. 31, Pelzel said. There will be a lot for everybody, including discussions about dual immersion and an opportunity to discover additional programs that are available in the district as well.

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