Continuing Spanish Immersion at Lawrence North High School

The ACIE Newsletter, May 2003, Vol. 6, No. 3

By Mary Carr, Foreign Language Department Chair, Lawrence North High School, Indianapolis, IN

Editor’s Note: ACIE’s November 2002 issue (Vol. 6, No. 1) featured Forest Glen Elementary School, an International Magnet School with a Spanish Immersion Program within the school. We thought our readers would enjoy reading about what happens to the graduating 5th graders from this school as they continue on to the middle and high school levels in Lawrence Township, Indiana. Read on!

The Spanish Immersion Program of Lawrence Township, Indiana first welcomed elementary-age students in 1994. Each subsequent year another grade level was added at Forest Glen (FG) Elementary School until the program expanded to Craig Middle School in 1999. There, following research and discussion, the decision was made to continue with a partial immersion program in which science, social studies and Spanish Language Arts would be offered.

When planning for the high school component began in 2001, the goal was to develop a well-articulated program at Lawrence North High School. With help from a Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant, teachers at Craig Middle School and Lawrence North High School began to plan and develop an immersion program sequence. The idea was to develop a separate track for them rather than infuse them into the upper level classes that are part of the regular Spanish sequence of courses.

Important Issues

Program planning for secondary immersion introduces a unique set of challenges. What content areas will make up the curriculum? Where will we find qualified licensed teachers? What materials and resources are available and appropriate for these students and the course content? Will we attract a sufficient number of students to be able to offer the courses? What follows is a description of how we have worked together to address these important issues.

Curriculum Decisions

Immediately, the question arose of which content areas, other than Spanish language arts, could continue to be part of the immersion program. Because students take science and social studies at the middle school, these two content areas were considered for the high school part of the K-12 program. Since Lawrence North is a comprehensive four-year high school, students have a variety of courses they can select to fulfill the science requirements for graduation. Therefore, the decision was made to continue, at least for grade 9, with social studies. The courses developed and proposed to the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township and to the Indiana Department of Education were Spanish Immersion I and World Cultures, a social studies class that is a district requirement for graduation. These two courses make up one fourth of the students’ eight-period-over-two-days block schedule. Because the students take four classes each day, students in the immersion program have one class a day in Spanish.

Qualified Teachers

Finding qualified licensed teachers presented a problem. There were no native or near-native speakers of Spanish on the faculty who held a license to teach social studies. Since the first group of immersion students would number fewer than thirty, teachers of these students would also need to teach classes outside of the immersion program, which would require that they also have strong English skills. For the first year of the program, a teacher with near-native proficiency and a license in Spanish was hired. A limited license to teach social studies was issued to the teacher. In addition to teaching the two immersion classes, the teacher was assigned to teach a Spanish I class and a Beginning English as Second Language class. Until there are enough students enrolled in the program, teachers will be expected to teach courses outside of the immersion curriculum.

Appropriate Materials

After developing the first two courses, it was easy to find challenging and appropriate materials for the Spanish language arts class. However, finding materials for the social studies class was difficult. Since the World Culture class is the Spanish version of an already existing, required class, the teacher spent many hours translating or creating materials so that the class standards could be met in Spanish. This year we will select texts to be used in social studies classes over the next six years. Fortunately, textbook companies are beginning to publish texts, not just supplements, in Spanish.

Sufficient Enrollment

Student enrollment in the program also needed to be addressed. Like many high schools, in order for a course to be offered, a minimum number of students must be enrolled. To insure adequate numbers, a decision was made to allow native Spanish speakers to enter the high school immersion program. For the most part this has been a good decision.

The Evloving Curriculum

In August of 2002, Lawrence North High School welcomed the first group of 28 students to the senior high immersion program. Fortunately, these students and their parents took a leap of faith when they enrolled in the program that a course of study would be developed beyond grade nine. Within the first weeks of school, a meeting was held with these students. Students were asked what they wanted from a high school immersion program. The response was clear: (1) students wanted the flexibility to select courses from other curricular areas, (2) they wanted an overseas experience, and (3) they desired recognition of their efforts in completing a 12-year immersion program.

Ideas for the rest of the high school program began to take shape as a result of the meetings with students (see Spanish Immersion Program Plan page 7). Two tenth-grade courses, Spanish Immersion II and Culture and Diversity, a class focusing on the cultures of Spain and selected Latin American countries were created and submitted for approval. In addition, the high school immersion staff developed a proposal for a four-year plan with required and elective courses that will ultimately lead to a special diploma issued by the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township for students completing the thirteen-credit program. The required courses in this proposed plan, which make up ten credits of the program, are Spanish Immersion I, Spanish Immersion II, World Cultures, Culture and Diversity, and AP Spanish Literature. The elective possibilities for the additional three credits are: 1) student teaching in the immersion program at Forest Glen Elementary, 2) Advanced Learning Experience, which allows students to develop an independent project in an area of interest, 3) an overseas experience in Spain that is a homestay/study program in the summer, and 4) an additional language arts class that is under development. Plans for assessing the immersion students’ Spanish language development are also in place. In addition to sitting for the AP Literature Exam, students are being encouraged to sit for the AP Spanish Language Exam and the Diploma Español como Lengua Extranjera, a language assessment tool offered by the Spanish Ministry of Education.

The Spanish Immersion program being developed at Lawrence North High School is unique. As with any evolving program, it will have highs and lows as it continues to grow. In 2006 the first group of immersion students will graduate and the program will be fully developed. At the writing of this article, students are signing up for classes for the 2003-04 academic year. It appears that most of the students in the ninth grade are continuing on to grade 10 and next year’s ninth-grade students are enrolling for the ninth-grade courses. We find that to be very good news.

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