Spanish program in Burbank schools may expand

Burbank educators say that the Spanish dual-language immersion program they started this year has been successful so far, and they hope to expand it in the fall.

Twenty-nine kindergarten students belong to Burbank Unified’s inaugural dual-immersion class in which they spend 80%of the day speaking and learning math, science, language arts and social studies in Spanish.

The district launched the program with unanimous support from the board last year because school officials were seeing a demand for it. In 2012, Burbank Unified granted about 200 permits for Burbank elementary students to enroll in dual-immersion programs outside of the district.

Since offering the first class at Disney Elementary, Principal Melissa Kistler said parents have embraced it.

“I can tell you with confidence that I think it’s a smashing success,” she said.

Next year, the district will likely adopt a model that would have the youngest students speaking and learning in Spanish for 90% of the five hours they spend in the program. By the time the students reach the fourth and fifth grades, they would spend half their time learning in Spanish and the other half in English.

Tom Kissinger, director of elementary education for Burbank Unified, has also proposed introducing two more kindergarten classes at Disney Elementary for the 2014-15 school year, with each class having an instructional aide.

The ultimate goal would be to offer two Spanish dual-immersion classes through the fifth grade, which Kissinger estimates would cost Burbank Unified about $1.2 million.

He also said the district is in the early stages of looking into offering a dual-immersion program in Armenian by the fall of 2015.

About 45% of Burbank Unified’s 1,647 English-language learners speak Spanish. About 36% of students speak Armenian. Another 16% of students speak a total of around 70 other languages.

For now, when students in the current dual-immersion kindergarten class advance to first grade, the district will give priority to those students’ siblings to join the program in the fall and hold a lottery for the rest.

One major priority for the district will be to reach out to Burbank’s Spanish-speaking community to attract more fluent Spanish speakers, Kissinger said.

In the current kindergarten class of 29 students, only three students are fluent, and four more understand Spanish, Kissinger said, whose goal is to build classes where half the students speak Spanish fluently.

Juliana Sanchez said about a third of the class’ parents speak Spanish, and their children are primarily English speakers.

Leonidas Tarca, assistant principal at Jordan Middle School, who enrolled his son Matteo in the kindergarten class, said he is pleased with the progress his son has made.

Susan Francisco said her son came home crying for the first two weeks of the class because the new language was difficult for him. Now, however, he is excelling.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the program,” she said.

The Burbank Unified school board did not take a formal vote on the program’s expansion, but board members and staff have wholeheartedly supported it, so far, including Burbank Unified Supt. Jan Britz.

“We have to offer more options for our students,” she said. “We want to be the district that provides those options for our students.”


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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