Teton County’s public school district has released some details about a new dual-language immersion program to be located in Driggs Elementary.
“The model we are reviewing is a 50/50 model, where half the day learning is in Spanish, and half the day it’s in English,” said District Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme. “The dual part is we are embedding a second language acquisition on top of teaching the academic standards that are given by the state.”
School board members are enthusiastic about the program.
“The research shows that dual immersion students outperform their fellows students,” said School Board Member Chris Isaacson. “Why wouldn’t we do this?”
The program is scheduled to begin next school year for just kindergarten and the first grade.
“The program will build up each grade as the kids advance through the grades,” said Isaacson. “The kids will stay together.”
The Teton School Board has reviewed programs in neighboring Jackson and Rigby school districts, as well as programs in Utah.
“We went through their dual immersion programs and sat down with their dual immersion coordinators,” said School Board Chairman Delwyn Jensen. “Statistics don’t lie. The data that they are showing is that dual immersion shows significant increases in education levels, testing scores, things like that.”
The program is not just designed to teach first-language English kids Spanish.
“Interestingly enough it benefits the Hispanic population quite a bit,” said Jensen. “It lowers the gap in the difference between English language and English as a second language. That’s part of the initiative in bringing on this dual immersion.”
According to Jensen, the program should be popular.
“We are anticipating a high level of interest,” he said.
To try and accommodate everyone in the valley, the program is scheduled to take place in Driggs.
“It will be more than likely at Driggs Elementary School because that’s our central elementary school,” said Woolstenhulme. “We don’t have the ability to start it in every elementary school.”
More information on the program will soon be posted on the district website.
“We are compiling our information and the goal is to have a link on our page in a couple weeks so that anyone can review that at any time,” said Woolstenhulme.
The dual-immersion program fits into a larger picture for the future of the school district as described by the updated strategic plan.
The strategic plan, which is required by the state to see how districts plan to improve, has been a work in progress over a long period.
“About three years ago we started the process of doing the strategic plan,” said Jensen. “About a year and a half ago we started the second draft, which really… went into the goals.”
Jensen said that reviewing the plan helped change the focus of the school board.
“We would really like to get some new elementary schools built,” he said. “The first year and a half of my tenure on the board that has been the focus—to get a bond passed. Once we went through the strategic plan… that shifted to being second priority, with student achievement taking more of a priority.”
For the board and the district, student achievement means more than good test scores.
“We are not educating to a test, we are educating to the standards that the district adopted. As a result of that, you’ll see test scores improve,” said Jensen.
Isaacson added that raising achievements starts with meeting kids at their level.
“Our biggest concern for our students is that we are differentiating their instruction at the level they need,” she said. “So those kids are moving along quickly so we are challenging them, and those kids who need extra help, we can challenge them at their level.”
To improve student achievement, the school district started working on the school curriculum.
“When we talk alignment we want to make sure we are using curriculum that meets the [state] academic standards and is coherent across all the schools, and with the students as they progress to the next level,” explained Woolstenhulme.
The plan also addresses a perennial issue—public perception of the district.
“We’ve definitely recognized that our weakness as a district is communicating our strengths,” said Jensen. “That’s something we are trying to do as a board is change the perception of the district.”
“That’s something we have recognized for a long time,” he said. “The teachers and coaches in the schools work really hard and do a good job but we don’t tell the story or share our successes well.”
To combat this perception, the district plans to work on the district’s website and social media, especially the school district’s Facebook page.
“We want to revamp the website and make it more user friendly,” said Jensen.
To achieve district goals, Jensen said the focus needs to include supporting teachers.
“What we want to do as a board is ensure the teachers have at their disposal all the tools they need to succeed,” said Jensen. “If we can do that as a board, our teachers will be successful. If our teachers are successful, then our students will be successful—ultimately that’s what we want.”