Parents in the Alpine School District fear changes to a 23-year-old program that teaches Spanish to English-speaking elementary students will adversely affect their children’s ability to learn a second language.
But Alpine District officials said starting the program in second grade, rather than first grade, will ensure literacy in both languages.
Spanish immersion programs are offered to students through sixth grade at Cherry Hill, Orchard, Northridge, Foothill and Windsor elementary schools, all in Orem, and Rocky Mountain Elementary in Lindon. Northridge Elementary is the only one that will continue to start in first grade.
Students in the program received instruction in Spanish three hours a day. Other classes are taught in English.
“A lot of [parents] aren’t real happy about it,” said Amy Littlefield, president-elect of the Cherry Hill Elementary Spanish Immersion PTA. Many have signed petitions protesting the change.
Parents don’t need to worry, said Gary Seastrand, assistant superintendent for elementary education. The change won’t affect the program’s quality because research shows students learn a second language better if they can read in their native tongue first.
The Spanish immersion program, which was first offered 1978 at Cherry Hill Elementary, hasn’t been without challenges. The district has struggled to find qualified bilingual teachers and battled student attrition, which leaves English instructors with larger classes as the numbers of Spanish immersion students drop when students leave the program.
“The bottom line is we believe the No. 1 focus of our school district has to be literacy,” Seastrand said. “We can’t say we’re going to value Spanish immersion over literacy.”