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Isenberg Elementary School gears up for dual-language program

SALISBURY — In the midst of countywide talks and concerns about redistricting, consolidation and renewal, educators at Isenberg Elementary School on Thursday stepped forward with excitement.

It centered on the school’s new dual-language immersion program, in which students will receive half of their instruction in English and half in Spanish. The program will begin in August with two 25-student kindergarten classes.

During a 6 p.m. session, faculty and staff welcomed parents of rising kindergartners to provide information about the program, the first of its kind offered in Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

“We’re really excited about what it’s going to bring, not only to our school but to our community,” said Assistant Principal Crystal Brown-Williams. “It’s going to help build our students into 21st-century citizens, and we’re really excited about that.”

Faculty used the session to explain the ins and outs of the dual-language model. As classes begin this August, students will receive a lesson in English one day, followed by a lesson in Spanish the next. This means students will receive 90 days of instruction in each language.

Principal Marvin Moore said the benefits of such programs are great.

“In well-implemented dual-language immersion programs, within a few years students either perform equally to or outperform their peers who are monolingual,” Moore said. “Languages are best developed through immersion.”

Moore said the dual-language setup is a logical next step for Isenberg. Since being given charter-like flexibility by the state’s renewal program three years ago, the school has been working to meet the needs of its diverse student population through a focus on global awareness and appreciation.

The school is hosting four international teachers through Participate Learning, a program Moore said helped the school “recruit and retain teachers from other countries.”

The school is also a global school through this Participate model, meaning staff members have completed more than 40 hours of professional development in global concepts that they can incorporate into their lessons.

While the dual-language program can help English-language learners, media specialist Karen Puckett pointed out another benefit.

“The Spanish language is … more sophisticated. Their everyday words are our English Tier 2 words,” Puckett said. “It actually boosts vocabulary for native English speakers to be learning a Latin-based language.”

Ynez Olshausen, with Participate Learning, said dual-language programs create native-like fluencies for English-speaking students.

“This language learning is much more like the way you learned your first language and your child learned their first language. They’re learning by doing things, by communicating,” she said.

And Olshausen said kindergartners are at a perfect age to develop a secondary tongue. “They’re not starting at zero with the second language. They’re starting to build on the foundation of language that you already built at home.”

Parents were quick to ask questions during the session. The program is set to expand each year as the first class of kindergartners progresses. But would the dual-language experience work at fifth grade?

Olshausen said local educators are already looking to keep the program going through middle school and beyond.

“We’re not thinking K-5. We’re thinking K-12 or K-16,” she said. “This is a college-door opener program. This is a study-abroad scholarship type program. This is the kind of thing that creates global opportunities for your kids.”

Others still wanted to know if parents need to speak Spanish in order to assist with coursework. Moore said no, though the school is working to form a Spanish class for parents.

Because Isenberg had opened enrollment to 25  kindergartners outside the school’s attendance zone, parents wanted to know if after-school care would be provided to bridge the gap as they travel from work.

Parents outside the Isenberg attendance zone will need to provide transportation, but Moore said there are several after-school care and club options available.

Registration for the two dual-language classes will be at 6 p.m. April 11. Moore said the goal is to register 25 students from within the Isenberg area and 25 from outside.

Parents from outside the Isenberg attendance zone will have the option to move older children to the school as well, though the program is available only for kindergartners this year.

For more information, call 704-639-3009 or visit https://www.rssed.org/ies.

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