Dick Clute can’t wait for the school year to begin.

For the last year and a half, Clute, who oversees the migrant school program for Idaho Falls School District 91, has been working on a new bilingual program aimed at 4-year-olds.

The fruits of his labor will be unveiled Sept. 4, when the first group enrolled in the Dual Language Preschool program meets at Dora Erickson Elementary School.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Clute said. “The English-speaking kids will help the Spanish-speaking kids with English, and the Spanish-speaking kids will help the English-speaking kids with Spanish.”

Registration is under way now until the 24 spots are taken. Twelve of those spots will be given to Spanish-speaking students and the other half to English-speaking students, he said.

“It’s on a first-come, first-served basis, but we want to make sure half are Spanish-speaking kids and the other half English-speaking kids,” he said of the program, which is open to students districtwide and will be led by two bilingual instructors, who will teach the standard preschool curriculum in addition to language instruction.

Those enrolled should pick up a second language quickly, Clute said, since research shows that children 2 to 4 years old pick up languages faster than older students.

Dual-language programs are the fastest-growing form of bilingual education, according to the National Association of Bilingual Education, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education. In 1990, there were 38 such programs from coast to coast; in 2000, there were 253.

The Bonneville County Joint School District 93 implemented a dual-language program in the fall of 1998. Today, there are 20 students – half of whom are Spanish-speaking – enrolled in the district’s English as a Second Language program, which is held at Cloverdale Elementary for students in kindergarten through the third grade.

“It’s been really successful,” said District 93 assistant superintendent Mandy Saras, whose daughter was a member of the pilot group three years ago. “We found that if you get the kids in their early years, by the time they hit the third grade, they’re off.”

Idaho Falls reporter Matthew Evans can be reached at 542-6761, or via e-mail at mevans@idahonews.com.

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