Students and staff at Queen Bee Elementary District 16 schools shouldn’t be surprised if they hear a lot more Spanish in the classrooms this year.

This is the first year the district will be offering instruction in Spanish for its primary students. This native-language instruction will only be for language arts and reading classes, said Victoria Tabbert, assistant superintendent for special services.

In the district, there are 222 bilingual students in kindergarten through third grade. About 120 of those children speak Spanish and will be placed in the new program.

Four years ago, there were still about 220 bilingual primary students, but less than half that number were Spanish-speaking, Tabbert said.

Some parents were concerned that their children would fall behind if they did not learn to read in English, but Tabbert said research shows it is important for children to learn how to read in their native language. After a framework of reading concepts is established, young children can apply those skills more easily to reading in a second language.

“Children need to learn to read in the language that they converse and communicate in,” Tabbert said. “If we are instructing them in the language they are comfortable in, it can carry over to English.”

Tabbert said the district will also make sure the bilingual children would be as fully integrated into the regular curriculum as possible. ESL students take their other classes in English and participate in all of the same field trips as the other children.

“As much English as we can will be emphasized,” Tabbert said. “Every one of these children has a place in our general education program.”

Implementing the new native language instruction program will not require any new staff, Tabbert said. The district has eight bilingual staff members who handle the ESL program, and three of those teachers work full-time at the primary level.

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