School board members in Schaumburg-based District 54 are expected to vote Thursday on whether to start a kindergarten program where pupils would be taught in English and Japanese.
If approved, the program will start in fall as an option for children attending Dooley School in Schaumburg. Both Japanese- and English-speaking children would spend at least half the day learning their subjects in Japanese and the rest of the day learning in English.
Each year another grade level would be added to the program.
“Philosophically, we liked the idea of offering a language that’s relevant in the world today,” said Supt. Lynne Rauch, adding that learning Japanese will help students when they take jobs in the global economy.
“We also have many students in the district of Japanese descent, and so we do have the constituents for that program. … We also know that any time that you learn more than one language, it simply enhances your achievement.”
At Dooley School, more than 10 percent of the pupils are of Japanese descent.
The Japanese program would follow the district’s two successful dual-language programs in Spanish.
If approved, it will become the first non-Spanish, two-way immersion program at an Illinois public school, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics, which compiles a national database of such courses.
Dooley Principal Tom Dewing, who sent out program surveys, said about 80 percent of parents polled thought it was a good idea.
Kathy Lockefeer, who has three children at the school, said she wished the language option had been available when they entered kindergarten.
Her 2nd grader, who shares math class with bilingual Japanese pupils, can count to 10 in Japanese.
“If they can learn any language this early, to me that’s wonderful,” she said. “These people come to our country and have to learn English; I think it’s great that it goes the other way too.”
But some parents, like Steve Bonnke, are unsure about the program. He has a 4-year-old who will enter kindergarten at Dooley in fall and Bonnke doubts he will choose the dual-language program.
“I just don’t see how it couldn’t affect the curriculum,” he said.
Seven years ago, the district started its first dual-language program in Spanish at MacArthur School in Hoffman Estates. Today, kindergartners through 6th graders can participate in the program, which has 159 pupils this year. The district also started a kindergarten class in Spanish and English this school year at Enders-Salk School in Schaumburg.
District officials said children in the dual-language programs are doing as well as, if not better than, their monolingual peers on state standardized tests and local assessments.
Dewing hopes the dual-language program also will enable Japanese-speaking children to learn English faster and to bond with the rest of the pupils.
“When you’re in a bilingual class with kids speaking your own language and sharing your culture, you don’t become socially connected to the other students,” he said. “In the dual-language program, not only are you speaking a different language, but you bond with other students–they become your classmates.”