Spanish program
Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 1, 1997

SCHOOLS: Spanish program

to move

District identifies three likely schools for language program

The Palo Alto school district is considering three elementary schools--Escondido, Ohlone and Hoover--to be possible permanent homes for its language immersion program.

A districtwide committee soon will begin meeting with representatives from each school to find the best site.

For two years, the Spanish language program has been based at Fairmeadow School. But the small site is becoming crowded and is not likely to be a viable long-term home. The program, now open to kindergarten and first graders, started in the fall of 1995 at the urging of parents. At the time, it was advantageous to put the program at Fairmeadow because that school enrollment called for an extra kindergarten anyway.

The program is designed to teach a foreign language to kids who already speak English. Currently, Spanish is the only foreign language offered by the district at the elementary level.

While parents hope to one day have a foreign language alternative school in Palo Alto, they acknowledge that for now, in a climate of budget cuts, that idea is a long way from reality.

"The Spanish immersion program being at Fairmeadow is a space crunch," said parent Carolyn Williams, whose son is in the program. Williams is on the committee that will consider location options. The goal, she said, "is to try to clearly have what we think we can grow by and try to find the appropriate location in the district. We've always known the program was not staying at Fairmeadow long term."

The move would coincide with the district's $143 million school bond project to renovate all 15 schools.

The Long-Range Immersion Education Planning Committee is still in the process of researching site sizes and enrollment projections. But it looks like there are three or four schools that would have enough space to house the immersion program at their schools, with at least one class per grade level, said Program Manager Kathleen Wood, who is overseeing the district's school bond construction project. The old JLS Middle School site, if it were converted to an elementary school, could house a two-strand (two classes per grade) language immersion program.

"Clearly, Fairmeadow is too small. That's the beginning, the middle and the end of it," said Assistant Superintendent Irv Rollins. The goal, he said, is to "relocate everyone to a place where there is potential for stability."

There is plenty of support among parents for expanding the program. At a recent orientation meeting, close to 50 potential parents came to find out more about the immersion program.

This year, the immersion program consists of one 27-student kindergarten, and a first grade, also with 27 students. The group plans to ask the school board Jan. 14 to add another kindergarten next year. The program would then have 27 students in kindergarten, 18 in first and second grades, and 18 more in a first/second grade combination class. These classes would then meet state guidelines for class-size reduction (a ratio of 20 students per teacher) in primary grades.

As long as enrollment grows, adding classes to the immersion program costs the same as adding regular classes. Parents hope to raise enough money eventually to create a Spanish library, but that would most likely be privately raised.

They also want to keep the momentum going by having the program grow each year.

"It's such a great program and the parents are so excited about it," Williams said. "It's such a good thing for Palo Alto. There are a lot of parents that want it right now, and if they miss this window of opportunity . . ."

--Elizabeth Darling 

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