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Denair Unified brings bilingual program to middle school
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Following the formation of a dual-language immersion program for kindergarten students at the newly formed Denair Elementary Charter Academy, Denair Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously voted on Thursday to approve a secondary Spanish curriculum pilot program for Denair Middle School.

The approved pilot program is the result of an effort by DUSD to aid DECA students in the dual immersion program, as well as all DECA students who are exposed to regular Spanish instruction, in their transition to high school.

“When these students get to middle school they will have been immersed in Spanish for six years, they are going to need something very strong to challenge them and maintain that vertical articulation,” said DECA Principal Sara Michelena. “The fact that the District is already preparing right now, five years in advance, is just great.

“When our students do get over there, the school will be extremely prepared to receive them,” added Michelena.

Starting this semester, DUSD will work on piloting the new Spanish curriculum, Realidades, which is a standards-based Spanish program that integrates communication, grammar and culture at the middle school. This balanced approach is built on the principles of backward design with assessment aligned with instruction.

The many tools for differentiated instruction supports success for all learners, including the new Teacher and Student Digital Center,, which offers an online learning system.

“We want to work with a Spanish curriculum team to make sure we are providing you with the feedback that you need in guiding us when we make the final recommendation for the materials we’ll want to use with students,” Senior Director of Student Services Michelle Bush told Board members on Thursday.

“We will evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of the program accordingly,” continued Bush.

The District’s goal is to find a suitable program that will aid DECA students primarily as they transition to the high school level. The charter academy’s dual language immersion program is currently only for kindergarten students and the class follows the 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English dual immersion model, according to Michelena.

The goal is to have a 50/50 mix of English and Spanish speakers. The intent, she said, is to add a dual immersion class at successive grade levels each year as the first group of kindergartners gets older.

“I think we’re all excited about the draw that this has already created for the District,” said Board President John Plett. “You guys are clearly doing a great job and we’ll make good use of this.”

The attraction to a school district resulting from the formation of a dual immersion program that Plett referred to is exemplified by DUSD’s neighbor, Turlock Unified School District with the District’s Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy.

For over 20 years, Osborn’s bilingual immersion program has helped thousands of students become fluent in both English and Spanish. It was because of the two-way immersion program’s success that the district decided to make Osborn a magnet school in 2009.

As the only one of its kind in the district, the dual immersion program had garnered a waiting list filled with hopeful students vying to attend the academy.

With the school planning to reach maximum capacity with over 1,000 students this year, fervent discussions regarding the expansion of the immersion program were held earlier this year between the District and stakeholders.

TUSD Board of Trustees eventually voted in April to maintain current grades and classes at Osborn in the 2015-16 academic year, while also concurrently planning expansive measures to be implemented at Dutcher Middle School and Wakefield Elementary School the following year.

In 2016-17 school year, the District plans to move Dual Immersion sixth grade students at Osborn to DMS in order to “create an authentic middle school culture.” Changes are also due for Wakefield, as the site is set to establish its own immersion strand to increase enrollment and create more opportunities for more students according to the District.

The new strand will progressively grow larger until it joins Osborn as a second magnet school in TUSD that is fully devoted to two-way bilingual immersion.