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As dual-language immersion reaches Glendale middle schools, officials eye offerings

When Glendale Unified established its first dual-language immersion program in 2003, the school district became a trailblazer for offering students a Spanish class where they would spend at least 50% of the day speaking and learning in Spanish.

Now, students can enroll in Spanish, German, Italian, French, Armenian, Korean and Japanese dual-language programs and spend anywhere from 50% to 90% of the day speaking and learning in their chosen language.

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This year, 477 students, or 25% of all of Glendale's current kindergartners, are enrolled in a dual-language program. Across the 30 schools in the district, 2,889 students, or 11% of the district's entire population, participate in a program.

With many immersion students currently in elementary schools, officials are beginning to address offering dual-language programs at the middle-school level.

In some cases, school officials are providing class offerings in middle-school programs based largely on parents' requests.

Last year, when Glendale school officials surveyed parents with children in the Armenian dual-language program at R.D. White Elementary, about 87% of parents wanted their child to take Armenian as a foreign-language class at Wilson Middle School.

Glendale school officials considered offering a science or social studies class taught in Armenian, but with the majority of parents demanding just one class in Armenian, Glendale Unified stuck with their preference.

In the coming years, when students in the newer language programs begin to approach middle school, school officials will survey their parents as well, said Kelly King, assistant superintendent for Glendale Unified.

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"We will be looking at the future cohorts regarding their interest because our intent was to provide that second course for the students," she said.

School board member Nayiri Nahabedian said she wasn't entirely surprised that parents elected for one class instead of two, saying some parents want their child invested in learning English.

However teachers who have met with those parents assure them that the students will be fine, she added.

Test scores, so far, show that students who are in a foreign-language program are highly proficient in English.

According to a district report, students who were enrolled in a dual-language immersion program demonstrated higher levels of proficiency in English last year than their counterparts who attended the same school, but were not in a program.

For example, roughly 55% of fourth-grade students enrolled in an Armenian immersion program met or exceeded the English standard, while 35% of the students who were not speaking or learning in Armenian achieved that same goal.

On another campus, 73% of students learning Japanese also met or exceeded the English standard, compared to 53% of students who were not part of that language program.

The ability to offer two courses in middle schools can also depend on whether Glendale Unified can find appropriate staff.

Finding instructors to teach dual-language immersion classes is not unlike finding "a unicorn," King said. They must be an educator who has a California teaching credential, have studied the language and have the ability to teach academic content using that language.

"Our biggest challenge and our biggest reward is when we find that teacher," she said, adding that the school district is currently recruiting to fill nine dual-language teaching slots.

So far, the district's plan is for French, German and Italian students to enroll in one language course at middle-school or high-school level, King said, but added that the district is flexible.

"If we happen to find a teacher who has those dual credentials, that they can teach both the foreign language class and one of the content-area classes, at that time, we really would entertain the thought of opening up a second [class]."

What appears to be far easier for the district is attracting students to the programs, which are extremely popular. Some parents relocate to Glendale, even from outside the country, so their children can enroll in them, King said.

As of Feb. 25, 530 applications were on the district's waiting list for a spot in a kindergarten dual-language class next school year.

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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