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Answers to queries on Spanish program (01/15/2014)
By Amelia Wedemeyer
At the Monday night Spanish immersion program informational meeting at Madison Elementary School, parents and Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) School Board members obtained more information about the details of the program, including an overview of how much Spanish will be used compared to English, and an explanation of the lottery process.

According to administrators, students will learn to read and write in Spanish, and not learn to read and write in English until they reach the third grade.

“All academic content will be in Spanish,” Erin Weisenbeck, who has been hired to teach kindergarteners in the Spanish immersion program, explained. “ [Students in] Kindergarten, first, and second grade will be doing reading and writing in Spanish, and in third grade they will start English.”

Several parents voiced their concerns about waiting several years for students to learn to read and write in English, but WAPS administrators made it clear that they had researched and consulted with experts on the issue.

“In third grade they start to introduce structure in language: nouns, verbs, pronouns,” Weisenbeck explained. “Basically from research that we’ve looked at, [with] bi-learning —learning another language first — students catch on to phonics more easily. Overall, they’ve seen it be very successful.”

Jenny Bushman, WAPS curriculum director, reiterated the planning and research that cemented the decision by school leaders about the program.

“My biggest concern was the literary piece,” Bushman admitted. “But I can say with all the faith that I have researched and read that these students do very, very well. We forget there is a whole world outside of this six-hour day.”

The students will spend most of their school day speaking, reading, and writing in Spanish, but Madison principal Mark Winter made it clear that English would still be used in areas where the immersion students would have to interact with non-immersion students and staff.

“We’re not going to be speaking solely in Spanish,” Winter said. “The lunchroom, office, nurse’s office, and recess will be in English.”

“This is a long-term commitment,” WAPS Superintendent Scott Hannon added. “Your child will be supported through high school. We’re already looking at classes for middle school so, when these kids get there in a couple of years, there’s something for them. Rest assured, the program doesn’t end in fourth grade.”

The lottery

The current plan for the upcoming Spanish immersion program at Madison Elementary School is to implement one section of Spanish immersion in kindergarten, and if there is enough interest, another in first grade. The capacity for the kindergarten class is 23 to 24 students, while the maximum number for first grade is 25 students. If there are more applications than available spots, there will be a lottery similar to the Jefferson Elementary STEM program.

According to Pat Blaisdell, WAPS human resources director, students living in the Madison Elementary area will receive some preference over students not in the Madison area.

“A certain number of spots are guaranteed for students within the Madison neighborhood,” Blaisdell explained. “We’ll have an all-Madison lottery, and if there are some Madison students who don’t get in, they can still apply for the general pool. So statistically, yes, they’ll have a better chance.”

Hannon said in an interview that he did not believe that the immersion program would affect enrollment across the district enough to require redistricting in future years.

If there are students who do not get into the Spanish immersion program, they will still be able to attend Madison. Blaisdell went on to say that children of Madison educators will probably not be given preference since there is only one section of the program.

Parents also asked administrators questions regarding preference to students with older siblings in the program. In the future, if a student who has an older sibling in the Spanish immersion program applies for a spot, they will receive preference.

“If a sibling wants in, they’re in,” assured Hannon.

Kindergarteners who are not selected will not have another opportunity to be placed in the Spanish immersion program. The 2014-2015 school year will be the only year with an immersion Spanish section in both kindergarten and first grade. The following years will only have beginner immersion Spanish in kindergarten.

The deadline to apply for the Madison Spanish immersion program is January 24. 


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