Group works to create bilingual charter school

BOISE, Idaho—The efforts of a group hoping to set up a bilingual charter school in Canyon County could eventually create a better learning environment for students who struggle in traditional schools that offer little instruction in their language and culture.

“There’s some interesting and very positive aspects about charter schools,” Al Sanchez, a Treasure Valley charter school researcher, said Thursday.

Sanchez and other experts spoke about bilingual charter schools at Boise State University’s Mexican-American Studies Conference.

Charter schools, approved last year by the state Legislature, are publicly funded schools in which parents and teachers set the curriculum. Seven have been approved in Idaho.

The Council on Hispanic Education has been discussing a bilingual charter school for months.

Speakers at the conference said bilingual schools should help reduce the 33 percent Hispanic dropout rate, help immigrants feel good about their cultures and help English speakers learn to appreciate new cultures and languages.

Alecia Baker, an educational outreach coordinator at Micron Technology Inc., said there are several keys to successful bilingual charter schools. They must hire a diverse staff, foster positive interaction between ethnic groups and teach non-English-speaking students in their native tongue until they learn English.

But before any classes can be held, groups setting up charter schools need money, said Curt Hayes, who is helping set up the ANSER charter school in Boise.

Buildings are expensive and are not just awarded by the state, he said. Instead, groups must launch extensive fund-raising campaigns.

“That is the bottom line,” Hayes said. “Everything runs on money.”

But Hector de Leon, president of the Council on Hispanic Education, said the payoff could be worth it since bilingual charter schools have succeeded in other states. And Hispanic students said bilingual schools would help the many bright students who struggle through class because of developing English skills.

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