Growing dual language programs generating space, staffing concerns

It started out as an experiment with less than 20 students. Nine years later, Glendale Unified’s dual language programs have caught major traction, growing exponentially and generating waiting lists dozens of names deep.

But while the Foreign Language Academies of Glendale — commonly referred to as the FLAG programs — are helping the district stabilize declining enrollment numbers by attracting out-of-district students, they also are generating new concerns about space and staffing.

District officials are projecting that the once-fledging program will swell during the 2011-12 school year to 1,400 students studying in six languages at nine campuses. The numbers are expected to continue to climb the subsequent year to approximately 1,900 students. In addition, the district plans to add a seventh language, French, starting in fall 2012.

“We are now running into issues where we are running into severe space considerations,” said Deputy Supt. John Garcia. “Even with new facilities taking the place of current bungalows or relocateable classrooms, our campuses themselves, acreage wise, are only so big.”

Officials said they are doing their best to anticipate the growth.

“We don’t want to add a new program to some place and then, two years later, say, ‘oh, we are out of classrooms and the other program has been here longer so we have to move,’” Garcia added. “We are being very deliberate about that.”

The dual-language programs — which include Spanish, Armenian, Korean, German, Italian and Japanese — evolved largely based on demand from families. Other languages that have been requested include Mandarin and Russian, administrators said.

Classrooms are composed of students with varying degrees of proficiency in English and the target language. Instruction is conducted in English and the target language, with the goal of fluency in both.

The progress of the programs is being watched within education circles. Earlier this year, FLAG administrators were invited to a conference in New Mexico. In June, the program was mentioned on a National Public Radio segment. And in May, it was featured in a Los Angeles Times article highlighting a resurgence in bilingual education.

They have also attracted financial and professional support from a dozen universities and foreign consulates who supply educational materials and teaching assistants.

“I think it is noteworthy that we are on the map with this many organizations and governments, not just locally, but internationally as well,” Garcia said.

Other pending questions about the future of FLAG include how to effectively extend the programs to the secondary schools — Toll Middle School enrolled its first group of FLAG students this year — and how to tweak the hiring process in order to staff enough bilingual teachers to meet the shifting needs of the district.

“Some of the decisions that need to made down the road [include] can even Toll accommodate all the languages?” said Supt. Dick Sheehan. “Do we identify a middle school for Far East languages?”

But despite the variables, school officials said they are already looking forward to the day when the district will graduate entire classes of bilingual students.

“We have gone from where bilingual education was from the devil, to [now, when] there is a lot of demand for it,” school board Vice President Christine Walters said. “I think it is incredibly exciting and I am sorry my son is a senior.”
 
 

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