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Further expansion coming to state's language immersion program

Delaware Public Media

Delaware is ready to take the next step with its language immersion program - looking to the future as it celebrates its initial success.

Gov. Jack Markell and state education officials joined language immersion students in the Caesar Rodney School District Tuesday at Simpson Elementary in Wyoming to mark four years of the program.

As part of the visit, Markell stopped by a third grade Chinese language immersion class to see how some of the first students to join the program are progressing.

He left impressed with what they’ve learned since they started in kindergarten.

"I’m blown away.  Frankly, it’s emotional," said Markell.  "You see these now thousands of kids across the state and you just think about the extraordinary opportunities they’re going to have.  It’s just amazing."

The language immersion program launched 4 years ago with just 340 students learning Chinese and Spanish in 3 schools.  By next year, it will be in all 16 school districts and serve about 3,000 K-to-4 students in 22 schools

Delaware Education Secretary Steven Godowsky says it’s a strong foundation for the next step into middle school grades.

This has become such a popular program statewide.  Caesar Rodney’s done a fabulous job with it and so they are leaders, but everywhere we have the program, there’s high interest," said Godowsky. "Parents want to have their son or daughter participate as a result of these early successes over the past four years.

Now, the focus shifts to developing a middle school level program.

An advisory committee recommends offering students a minimum of two immersion courses and 90 minutes of continuous daily instruction in their language with courses such as social studies and science taught in that language.

"The goal is the kids continue to the language they’ve learned – either Spanish or Mandarin - but as we specialize in courses, they’ll have culture and other aspects in part of these courses. So, it’s just the perfect next step," said Godowsky.

The middle school plan will be piloted with 60 Spanish students in Red Clay in the 2017-2018 school year – then rolled out fully in 2018-2019 with students in the program entering 6th grade in Red Clay, Caesar Rodney and Indian River where the program started.

Markell says he's optimistic the program can be successful into middle school and beyond.

"We do have to continue to fund it, but it's not that expensive a program because the teachers take up teacher units," said Markell.  "It's more about figuring out the scheduling and the like."

Godowsky says those details will be worked out over time, but believes the framework is there for long-term success.

"It will be more into courses as opposed to the half day in class [in the elementary school program]," said Godowsky. "So as it goes into the middle, junior high and high school it will be more in courses.  And as the governor pointed out, our goal is ninth graders take the [Advanced Placement] test and earn college credits in ninth grade."