Dual language program expected to reduce student achievement gap

Federal Way's dual language program is moving right along. The program, which was originally planned to start in the fall, has now been scheduled to start in the fall 2011.

The push back is in part due to the fact that Sunnycrest Elementary, where the program is going to start, will be based off campus next year while the school is rebuilt. The delay also gives planners more time to flesh out the plan before the new school opens in fall 2011.

Despite the delay, the program is still highly anticipated with the staff and board.

"It's the right way to go for all kids," Sunnycrest principal Rudy Baca said.

Baca headed the study to bringing a dual language program to Federal Way. He was the principal at Panther Lake Elementary, but switched to Sunnycrest to head the dual immersion program.

About 44 percent of the student population at Sunnycrest is Hispanic, according to the district. A dual language program will bring a class of native Spanish speakers and native English speakers together. The classes will be taught half the day in English, and half the day in Spanish.

Students in the dual language program will increase fluency in both languages, and the program will help both speakers in all their classes, according to research by the district. For non-English speakers, it could be especially helpful: With the program, students are meeting or exceeding standards, and by eighth grade, there was no achievement gap between the two groups, according to the research.

The plan

The plan is to have three classrooms at each of the participating grade levels. The school will start with either kindergarten only, or kindergarten and first grade, in 2011.

There will be one Spanish class and one English class paired together. There will also be an English-only class for those who do not wish to join the program.

The school and district will have to commit to funding all-day kindergarten, which the state has recently cut.

The program could also lead to growth for Sunnycrest, which is currently one of the smaller elementary schools in Federal Way. The school still has capacity, so students from elsewhere in the district who wish to participate in the dual language program could "choice enroll" into the school.

While studying the dual language immersion program, Federal Way school officials visited several sites including the Burlington School District, which also has a Spanish language program, and Portland's International School, which has dual language programs in Japanese, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.

District officials also traveled to the La Cosecha Dual Language Conference in New Mexico. Another trip is scheduled this year to help finalize the plan for next year's start.

The school board also discussed what the program could look like in the future, bringing in more dual language programs.

"I would love to have multiple dual language programs," board member Suzanne Smith said. She added that any expansion of the program would depend on the district's budget.

The cost to begin the program would be about $125,000, with the vast majority of that going toward curriculum and library books, according to a June report in The Mirror.

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