Mandarin, Spanish, arts, sciences: Schools showcase special programs

Sonora art teacher Tracy Taber, left, shows kids the craft of print-making during the Newport-Mesa School District's Festival of Learning at Costa Mesa High School on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Although her son is only 5, Sherrie Papa already sees a bilingual education as key to the boy’s future.

“You need more than one language,” said Papa, 39, as she looked over bilingual program brochures Wednesday night at an informational event hosted by the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

The event was meant to let Newport-Mesa parents know about a raft of new academic programs for district students entering kindergarten and high school. Some of the programs emphasize bilingual education, while others focus on specific subjects, such as the arts, engineering and science.

In booths scattered around in the Costa Mesa High School quad, school principals and teachers fielded parents’ questions. More than 200 people turned out, organizers said.

Some attendees, like Papa, had been looking at private schools. She said she also wanted to see what the district had to offer.

The new programs include Mandarin language immersion at College Park Elementary and a Spanish language immersion at Whittier Elementary. Enrollment is open to incoming kindergartners districtwide.

“This isn’t about teaching a few words in Spanish,” said Scott Wilcox, principal of Whittier Elementary, who manned one of the booths. “This is about biliteracy.”

Wilcox said the program immerses children in dual languages — instruction that continues through sixth grade. The program he hopes, will be extended through middle and high school in the future. He encouraged parents who approached him with questions to visit Whittier Elementary to learn more.

Across the quad, Gabriel Del Real, principal of Adams Elementary, responded to questions about the Modern Scholars Academy, an academically rigorous program for incoming kindergartners.

“We want families who have historically looked elsewhere,” Del Real said. Despite test score gains in recent years, many families in the Mesa Verde neighborhood have sent their children to Huntington Beach schools or private school.

Among the academy’s selling points: participation in the UC Irvine Gifted Students Summer Academy. Students also will be exposed to advanced subjects, such as physics and robotics, at an early age.

“This is an opportunity to really have their child challenged,” Del Real said. “The goal is to bring academic enrichment into our school.”

Apart from the kindergarten programs, the event included information about Signature Academies, which are open to students entering ninth grade in the fall. The academies provide unique curricula meant to boost college preparedness and career readiness.

Each high school offers one or more academies in different subject areas, ranging from engineering to the arts. Students can apply to transfer across the district to the academy of their choice.

Christa Shaffins said she was pleased to hear about the Academy of Creative Expression, an arts conservatory at Costa Mesa High School.

Although her daughter, Kayla, is only in sixth grade, the Costa Mesa mom said she was there to get a head start since her daughter will eventually attend Costa Mesa middle and high schools.

Shaffins said the arts is one of her daughter’s interests.

“She’s really creative and I found out they offer it here,” Shaffins, 37, said. “I didn’t know about all these programs, so this is really great info for me.”

The application deadline for the kindergarten and ninth-grade programs is April 15.