Picture having dinner in Madrid and being effortlessly guided through the Spanish menu – by your 10-year-old.

That’s just one of the scenarios educators at Hawthorn Elementary District in Vernon Hills hope to make possible with a new dual-language program that premieres in the fall.

Jumping on what is becoming a regional and national trend, the school board Monday night unanimously approved a one-year test program for students in kindergarten and first grade.

The Spanish-English effort will be available as an option for as many as 96 students, regardless of their native language.

“We’re very excited about it, and we hope it will be received well by the community,” said Maria Gaos, one of a handful of Hawthorn teachers who researched the issue for a year before proposing the plan to the board last month.

Gaos has taught bilingual and English-as-a-Second-Language classes for 10 years at Hawthorn Elementary District 73 schools.

But unlike those programs, the new Spanish-English plan is designed to make all participating students fluent in English and Spanish languages and cultures.

For the first several years, 80 percent of classes will be conducted in Spanish, an effort to counterbalance the dominance of English in society.

As students progress through sixth grade, the ratio will even out to 50-50.

The philosophy is fueled by a range of studies showing professional benefits of being bi-cultural, as well as benefits to the brains of those who learn two languages at a young age.

Similar programs from Highland Park to Diamond Lake are regarded as successes.

Gaos said families should consider two criteria when deciding whether to enroll their children.

“We’re hoping for a commitment of three to four years,” she said. “And we need the families to be very involved with each other. That will help develop what we call ‘biculturalcy': Hispanic families being exposed to genuine experiences in an English- speaking setting and vice versa.”

No deadline has been set for students to apply.

Hawthorn Superintendent Youssef Yomtoob said the program is a “re-allocation of resources,” meaning it would not involve any additional cost to parents or the district.

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