NEWTON — Dana Greene and Leslie Barnette were part of the task force three years ago that started to look at innovative practices to use at St. Stephens Elementary School.
For several years, there has been an interest in Catawba County Schools to create a dual language model, English as a second language coordinator Dana Greene told the school board during a recent meeting.
“After research and seeing several schools in our area launch successful programs, we thought it was time for Catawba County Schools to as well,” Greene said.
They proposed and the school board approved a plan to have dual language programs ready for kindergarten classes at Sherrills Ford and St. Stephens Elementary schools for the 2018-19 school year.
“We decided on St. Stephens Elementary because we felt like it was a good time with its restart model,” Greene said. “At Sherrills Ford, they’re in a competitive area and they have an interest in offering their families new and innovative programs.”
During the last decade, multiple research studies have demonstrated the significant cognitive benefits derived from early language learning, as well as the potential long-term educational and career benefits that multilingual students accrue, according to americancouncils.org.
Further research has found a meaningful connection between dual language immersion programs and academic success — regardless of a student’s native language.
St. Stephens Elementary Principal Kathy Keane said she was excited and thankful to the CCS Board of Education for approving the new program.
“This will make our students more appealing to potential employers,” Keane said. “Our hope is for our whole school to benefit by becoming global citizens.”
She said the idea of becoming a global school is what excites her teachers about the program as well.
St. Stephens Elementary will have a 50/50 program, one class taught entirely in Spanish and one taught entirely in English. Students would split their time evenly between the two classes so every other day they would have either Spanish or English.
The school would also use the “Gold Standard” model where classes would have 50 percent native Spanish speakers and 50 percent native English speakers.
“The reason we’re looking at that for this school is because of the educational deficits and poverty in that school,” Greene said.
The whole school would have a global focus as well.
In contrast, the Sherrills Ford model will be full immersion.
The CCS Federal Programs Director Leslie Barnette explained to the board some of the costs associated with setting up these programs and where the funding will come from.
The cost for the program at St. Stephens Elementary for 2018-2019 would be $115,400 and would come from the school’s Title I money. Sherrills Ford would cost $130,400 for 2018-2019 and would come mostly from grants, Barnette said.
The task force anticipated there wouldn’t be any cost for a Spanish dual language teacher at St. Stephens Elementary because they would already have a position assigned for another kindergarten teacher. She said the source of the funding would be state and local as part of the district’s regular allotment.
“There would also be that English dual language teacher and that’s a teacher already in existence at that school if possible,” Barnette said. “Both of our principals are already beginning to look at their staff now and who might work in those positions.”
It wouldn’t be a recurring cost either because this position would already be allotted under state and local funds.
The schools would need a full-time teacher assistant (TA) for each classroom. Barnette said the English class assistant will probably be on staff since there are teacher assistants in kindergarten already. The Spanish class TA would probably be an additional cost to the schools.
“We have learned through research that it costs about fifteen thousand dollars to outfit a classroom in Spanish,” Barnette said. “Everything an English classroom needs to have, the Spanish language classroom would have also, the alphabet, your charts, your calendar, your textbooks.”