Elementary World Language Program

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    Update – April 27, 2016 – Spanish Language program to begin in the fall of 2016

    The district is moving forward with a new Spanish language program to begin in the fall of 2016. This will be a great enhancement to the K-5 curriculum.

    From the initial planning, Spanish will be taught in a 40-minute instructional segment in a rotation with P.E. and Music. Our study of a world language program has spanned two academic years, with much thought, research and reflection. Thank you to our families for your support as we went through this process. We have recruited qualified teachers for this program and are developing curriculum.

    Update – Feb. 5, 2015 – Spanish Language Program Q/A's 

    1. What are the educational benefits of having elementary students K-5 study a second language (Spanish)?
    The New York Times published an article recently entitled, “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter.” In part it stated:

    SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
    For a copy found on the district’s website, click here:

    Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

    2. Will learning a second language impact our students who learn differently and who may struggle with English-language reading and writing?

    There is no clear-cut answer. There is research to support that children who struggle with phonemes and phonics may, in fact, be helped by further instructional through auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning. See the following article on the district’s webpage: From www.LDonline.org:

    Learning Disabilities and Foreign Language Learning by Robin Schwarz

    3. Will funding be taken away from existing programs to fund Spanish?

    No. There is no plan now or in the future to cut existing program funding to initiate a Spanish-language program. Over the past few years, we have added an arts specialist K-5; two reading coaches K-5; one SpEd curriculum specialist K-5; one SpEd behavior specialist K-5; one SpEd support specialist K-5; and over 1.8 FTE in instructional coaches 6-12.

    4. What is the source of funding for the elementary Spanish-language program?

    Funding for this program will come from a state allocation to enhance the number of elementary teachers beginning in 2016-17. In order to receive these resources the district will have to verify that we have hired additional elementary teachers.

    5. Can the additional (enhanced) K-3 teacher staffing be redirected to enhance
    teacher salaries?

    No, two reasons prohibit using this funding for compensation. First, funding for this program will come from a state allocation to enhance the number of elementary teachers beginning in 2016-17. In order to receive these resources the district will have to verify that we have hired additional elementary teachers. Second, the McCleary decision directed the legislature to eliminate the over reliance on local effort to pay teachers for basic education services. The Legislature is being fined $100,000 per day until they come up with a plan to fully fund basic education.

    Recognizing the need to recruit and retain the very best teachers, the district committed our local levy money and increases in state funding for materials and supplies to fund a 2.0% increase to the Additional Responsibilities Contract (ARC) in each of the three years of the current contract (for a total of 6.0% over the three years). Any Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) provided by the State of Washington are passed through to the teachers, in addition to the 2.2%. 

    Update on study of K-5 Spanish-language program

    Over the past year, the district has been studying the feasibility of adding a Spanish-language program to the K-5 curriculum to begin in the fall of 2016. Recently our Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and three elementary teachers visited five elementary schools in Glastonbury, Conn., where Spanish has been taught in the elementary grades for over fifty years. In their model, children receive Spanish-language instruction for approximately 75 minutes per week beginning in first grade. The team also visited Annie Wright Academy in Tacoma, Wash., to view a Spanish-language program with a similar instructional delivery.

    Adding language classes is subject to finding adequate resources, including capable instructors who are certified to teach the target language to K-5 students. At this point, the probability is high that such a program launch occurs this coming fall if there is strong parent and staff support.

    The elementary school day will need to be extended by 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the day in order to allow additional time needed to have children study Spanish and not detract from the other content areas.

    Parents, staff and the community are invited to take a survey on the elementary Spanish program and the high school release time on Wednesdays until the survey window closes on December 4, 2015. Click here to take the survey on Elementary Spanish-language Program and High School Start Time.  

    Update – Dec. 14, 2015 – Survey results on Spanish-language Program K-5 and Late Start Wednesday for high school

    The District released survey results from over 530 respondents of combined parents, students and staff on key topics. The survey is part of the district’s yearlong study on the benefits and challenges of implementing a K-5 Spanish-language program intended to launch in the fall of 2016, and the possibility of late-start Wednesdays for high school students only.

    The survey results show that over 81% of all participants (89% of elementary parents and 65% of elementary staff) are in favor of adding a Spanish-language program in K-5 beginning next school year. While parents overwhelmingly support the addition of 15 minutes to the end of the elementary student day, just less than half of our certificated staff support such a change. Dr. Plano will be meeting with all elementary staff in the first school week in January to share results and seek input on the issues where teachers have expressed concerns.

    Regarding the possible move of high school to a late start on Wednesdays, 73% are in support, including 61% of high school parents. When the high school certificated staff results are disaggregated, the support jumps to 92%.

    Dr. Plano will continue to work on these two initiatives as 2016 unfolds and will keep the students and community updated.

    Click here for survey results.

    Elementary world language program background

    The Mercer Island School District has been studying the feasibility of adding a world language program to the elementary school curriculum in the fall of 2016. Elementary Spanish was selected to be the first language offered in the elementary schools. It will be offered in the fall of 2016. The school day would be extended to include the class. 

    Nationally about 25 percent of all elementary schools have some form of world language instruction taught in elementary school. These schools are located largely in the eastern United States, although there are several here in the Puget Sound area.

    Research shows that the period of early childhood is an optimal time to begin the study of a second language. Research also shows that early instruction in a second language has reciprocal benefits for children in learning their native language.

    In December of 2014, Superintendent Plano sent a survey to Mercer Island School District staff and the elementary community regarding interest in world language instruction at the elementary level. Nearly 80 staff members and 200 community members responded to the survey. In the community, 90 percent of respondents said they believed world language instruction should be included in the elementary program. Only three percent said no. More than 70 percent of both staff and the community agreed that Spanish should be the first target language.

    Adding an elementary world language program is subject to finding adequate resources, including capable instructors who are certified to teach the target language to K-5 students in the fall of 2016.

    Parents, staff and other stakeholders continue to discuss this topic. If you have any questions or comments about adding a world language program in the elementary curriculum, please contact Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano.

Elementary World language Research