Groundbreaking work at Bijou |

Groundbreaking work at Bijou

Axie Navas
Grading and digging season began this month at Lake Tahoe.
Tribune file

It may not look like much now, but come July 2013, the muddy hole at Bijou Community School will be the site of nine new classrooms that will help expand the school’s Two-Way Language Immersion program.

Almost half the money for the $9 million project comes from an Overcrowding Relief Grant, awarded by the state to help schools get rid of portables and free up space that, in South Lake Tahoe’s case, is covered in snow about five months out of the year. The rest of the money comes from the Measure G funds.

For Superintendent Dr. James Tarwater, maybe the biggest benefit of the new facilities will be the increased space for the Two-Way Language Immersion program. The program puts English learners and English speakers in the same classroom to promote biliteracy. In Bijou’s case, classes are split about 50/50 between English and Spanish speakers. Teachers start the students off in kindergarten with a 90/10 curriculum – 90 percent in Spanish, 10 percent in English.

“The kids assume that’s how all school is,” said Kathy Haven, a former South Tahoe Middle School math and science teacher.

Haven now has two children enrolled in the TWI program at the Bijou Community School.

“It’s harder for the parents,” she said. “To drop them off in kindergarten and know that they’re really only going to be speaking Spanish.”

Yet Haven, who doesn’t speak Spanish, speaks highly of the program. She co-founded the South Lake Tahoe Bridge Language Academy and helped start TWI at Bijou.

“They’re giving my kids something I can’t give them. It opens doors for her,” Haven said in reference to her eldest daughter, who will enter third grade this fall.

When school begins in late August, Bijou will have its first TWI fifth-grade class, half of which will be taught in Spanish and half of which will be taught in English. And for the first time, three kindergarten cohorts will start the program. Since 2007, when Bijou first implemented the program, 220 students have entered the TWI curriculum.

“It’s really taken off. We have a lot of Bijou students who apply to participate,” Tarwater said.

The school now has a lottery for parents looking to enroll their kids in the program. According to Haven, for every student who gets in, another one doesn’t.

Even if only half of those 220 students come back to South Lake Tahoe, that will be 110 fully bilingual adults who can hopefully change the face of the community, Haven said.

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