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Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

More kids may get to learn in 2 languages

Seattle Times staff reporter

More Seattle students soon may have a chance to learn the core subjects in both English and a second language.

That approach, known as "dual-language" immersion, is the hallmark of the popular John Stanford International School in Wallingford, which instructs students in English and either Spanish or Japanese. The school, home to the Seattle School District's only dual-language immersion program, last week was named the nation's best elementary school overall in the Schools of Distinction Awards competition sponsored by Intel Corp. and Scholastic Corp.

With high parent interest and research backing the effectiveness of dual-language programs, the Seattle School district is supporting efforts to expand their availability across the city, said Caroline Tamayo, the district's bilingual-program manager.

Pilot programs are under way at two schools, while preliminary discussions have begun at three others:

• Maple and Whitworth elementaries, both South End schools, have begun English-Spanish pilots this year. Whitworth is considering a program that would offer families a choice of immersion instruction in Spanish or an Asian language, such as Vietnamese, mandarin or Tagalog.

• Two West Seattle schools, Concord Elementary and Denny Middle School, and Northgate Elementary are considering English-Spanish immersion programs next fall.

• A new coalition of schools on Queen Anne and in Magnolia calling itself Successful Schools In Action is working to establish a dual-language program in that cluster of schools.

Seattle School Board members have expressed disappointment that there is no established dual-language immersion program in the city's South End, where most of the district's bilingual students live.

"We only have one in the whole district. Portland, Ore., has 11, so we obviously have barely begun to offer this opportunity to students throughout the district," said board President Brita Butler-Wall, who is fluent in English and Swedish.

Research shows that students educated in their native language and another language develop academic skills on a par with, or better than, the skills of peers educated in only English-only classrooms. Studies also suggest that students with strong fluency in two languages develop higher cognitive skills than monolingual students.

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Principals in South Seattle schools say they're pursuing dual-language immersion as a means to accelerate the achievement of their students who don't speak English as a first language, particularly Spanish speakers. Latino community leaders in April called on the district to provide their children with more access to dual-language instruction.

"I feel like a global model would attract new families, but our first priority is to take a look at how we deliver services to our bilingual children," said Scott Coleman, Whitworth's principal. This fall, at least 16 students in kindergarten will be taught in Spanish for half of their day, he said.

At Maple, principal Pat Hunter is starting with one kindergarten and one first-grade class.

"Our data was showing we weren't meeting the needs of our Spanish-speaking children," Hunter said.

Ed Jefferson, Northgate's principal, said his school is strictly gathering information on language immersion. "We haven't agreed to it as a complete staff yet," he said.

Dual-language programs are growing rapidly across the state, although they still serve only 1 percent of students who don't speak English. In 2002, there were five programs. Two years later, there were 36 dual-language programs in existence or being planned, according to a recent report by the state Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction.

Besides Seattle, the Eastern Washington school districts of Yakima, Wapato, Sunnyside and Grandview have three or more schools with these programs, according to the report.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

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