Soaking up Spanish: Language immersion program at Bijou Community School gears up for its second year |

Soaking up Spanish: Language immersion program at Bijou Community School gears up for its second year

Kindergartners in the Two-Way Immersion Program at Bijou Community School practice reading in Spanish with the help of their teacher, Shaina Lucas. (Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Walking into Shaina Lucas’ class at Bijou Community School, the chattering of 5-year-olds drifts around the room in a mix of Spanish and English.

“My goal is to have them talk as much as possible so my classroom is never quiet,” said Lucas, who spoke in English only after the children had gone to lunch.

This is the first year of the Two-Way Immersion Program, which is designed to teach students to become fluent in Spanish and English. The program started with a kindergarten class and will continue next year for another incoming class.

And the kindergartners are picking it up quickly.

“They’re like sponges,” Lucas said. “They want to learn.”

During class, students create sentences in Spanish, along with sounding out letters to spell more words.

Part of the success of the program is based on parental involvement, said Kathy Haven, the parent who spearheaded the program.

When parents sign up for the program, they must commit to one hour per week, Haven said.

John Drum, a parent whose son is in the program, was volunteering in the classroom Wednesday. Drum said he knows a little Spanish because he took three semesters of classes.

“My 5-year-old is better than me,” he said.

Drum said that when he volunteers, Lucas gives him instructions to help out – but in Spanish, since she is in the classroom.

“I know enough to decipher so I can get by,” Drum said. “She’s very patient.”

Lucas always speaks Spanish in front of her class. The classroom is made up of 20 kindergartners, which breaks up into 10 English-speakers and 10 Spanish-speakers.

For 30 minutes per day, the kids learn in English with another teacher. This time increases to an hour in second grade, 11Ú2 hours in third grade, and so on, Haven said.

Bijou Community School Principal Karen Gillis-Tinlin said the program has changed the dynamic of the school because more parents are involved, and more English-only students are attending the school.

The school is made up of 65 percent English learners, Gillis-Tinlin said.

Even after the long winter break, the students picked up right where they left off.

“They didn’t lose anything,” Lucas said. “All 20 of them are reading.”

The students enrolled in the program are getting a head start in life with learning a second language, Drum said. He said his son, Dalton, now has the ability to interact with more kids who don’t speak English.

Gillis-Tinlin said the program breaks down a lot of cultural barriers, since children can communicate with one another.

Last year, the program had a lottery to decide which kids would be in the program for 2007-08, since so many parents applied. The same system will take place for enrolling in the program for the 2008-09 school year.

Sue O’Connor, the English as a Second Language program coordinator for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, said it hasn’t been decided who will teach the first-grade class next year, but many staff members are qualified. Six current staff members are fluent in Spanish, she said.

Informational meetings for interested parents will begin tonight and continue into February.

Teacher receives grant

Kindergarten teacher Laura Chappel was awarded a $300 grant by the California Retired Teachers Association of El Dorado County on Wednesday at Bijou Community School.

Chappel, who teaches at Bijou, said she will use the grant to purchase books for homework bags. These bags are filled with three books, along with activities to go along with the reading.

The homework bags also are part of her research for her master’s degree to see if they increase the rate of homework returned by English learners.

Dianne Rees, a member of the association, said the grant was to help a second-year teacher. Normally, the program gives scholarships to high school students intending to major in education, but this year, the association received so many donations that they started giving grants.

Immersion program information

Meetings about the Two-Way Immersion Program at Bijou Community School are at:

6 p.m. today

6 p.m. Jan. 23

6 p.m. Feb. 5

6 p.m. Feb. 11

Deadline for Two-Way Immersion lottery application: March 14

Two-Way Immersion lottery: March 18

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