District news — Funding will help Newberg School District expand the popular program from kindergarten through fifth grade

The Newberg School District announced at the beginning of the month that it’s new dual-language kindergarten program at Edwards Elementary School has received a $120,000 grant that will help fund the originally-intended plan of adding a grade level each year until it becomes a K-5 program.

The news was so encouraging not only to administrators, but to parents, that a group of parents made an impromptu appearance at the school district board meeting Nov. 19.

“I don’t know how often anybody really gets thanked these days,” parent Beth Koschman said. “We wanted to thank them because I’m sure it’s a ton of work to get a new program started and for all their hard work and support.”by: SETH GORDON - Two languages, one class - Edwards Elementary School principal Sue Luthra listens to a student recite his reading lesson in one of the school's two dual-language kindergarten classes Nov. 21. Edwards recently received a $120,000 grant that will provide professional development for teachers, classroom materials and support a design team to guide the expansion of the program to run K-5.

Principal Sue Luthra said the grant will provide for professional development, classroom supplies and support a design team that will develop the program.

So far the school has been able to take advantage of a store of supplies built up over the years from the English as a Second Language program it has run for Spanish speakers in grades K-3, but those will only last so long and go so far.

In addition, Luthra said that Spanish language materials are harder to come by and more expensive, but that the bigger concern will be staffing, as the state is already experiencing a shortage of bilingual teachers.

Luthra reported the program is doing well three months into its first year, with students picking up their second language.

“If English is their first language and you ask them a question, they’re jumping out of their seat to answer it and you asked the question in Spanish,” said Randy Pitts, who teaches one of the two 26-student kindergarten classes. “They’re so eager. They’re going to explode if you don’t call on them.”

Parents have been quick to notice their children’s advancement in their secondary language, like Koschman, whose husband is from Argentina. They were excited to get into the program because their son, Matias, didn’t seem to be picking up much Spanish because English was the more predominant language spoken at home. She especially loves how her son now comes home singing songs in his father’s native tongue.

“It’s definitely making his Spanish blossom,” Koschman said. “His dad and I somewhat speak at home, but he is just picking it up faster and I think he’s realizing maybe he knew more than he thought he did.”

Parent Nathalie Hardy was especially thankful to the board for expanding the program to include a second class, which she wanted for her son Sam after personally learning English on the fly when she was in school as a native Slovak speaker.

“I think it also helps them think differently,” Hardy said. “If you learn there’s more than one way to say something, there’s more than one word for it, it’s just a different way of thinking and seeing the world. That’s appealing.”

The program is structured so that certain subjects, like math, are taught in English, while others, like literacy, social studies and science, are taught in Spanish.

In addition, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, all the general instructions and routines for the day are given in Spanish, switching to English on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

According to veteran teacher Kelsey Foster, switching language by day when covering the routine things students do regularly, like counting, saluting the flag, saying the days of the week and choosing the class helper, really helps boost comprehension and therefore confidence.

“It’s routine stuff, so that makes them feel empowered because they know what those things mean,” Fosters said. “We have stuffed animals and their puppets. A lot of times we write about those animals, we try to repeat stuff a lot with lots of pictures and acting things out.”

Part of the challenge is that Pitts and Foster are teaching for content, as well as classroom behavior and how to be a student, with the added layer of doing it in a foreign language.

Luthra said that the goal is for students to be not only bilingual by the time they finish fifth grade, but bi-literate — reading and writing in both languages — as well.

The principal added that discussions about the feasibility of expanding the program beyond elementary school to K-12 will have to begin in the next year or two in order for the district to get ahead of the curve in hiring bilingual teachers.

That, of course, would be music to the ears of this year’s parents.

“I’m hoping they can do it K-12,” Koschman said. “I don’t know if they’re going to have enough money or support, but I would love that.”

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