Cape set to expand Spanish immersion program

State funding sought to offer program at all elementaries
December 1, 2017

Boosted by the success of Spanish immersion for kindergartners at H.O. Brittingham and Milton elementaries, Cape Henlopen School District plans to offer the program at all five of its elementaries.

“This is a program we feel is important,” said Superintendent Robert Fulton.

Pending Delaware Department of Education approval, the immersion program would be available to all kindergartners in the Cape Henlopen School District for the 2018-19 school year, said Donna Kolakowski, supervisor of elementary education.

“I hope we can get this in all our schools, and then in our middle schools,” said board Vice President Jessica Tyndall, one of six school board members who voted for expanding the program. Board member Roni Posner was absent.

Cape Henlopen opened the program this year to incoming kindergartners at Milton and HOB. At Milton, one-third of the 44 students enrolled are native Spanish speakers. “Every single one of our bilingual English Language Learner students is in the program,” said Principal Beth Conaway.

At HOB, eight of the 38 students are native Spanish speakers.

“We've had a very successful start at HOB,” said Principal Ned Gladfelter.

In a recent district poll, Kolakowski said 90 percent of parents who responded said that they would sign their child up for a Spanish immersion class.

“We feel it's been a successful program at our two schools,” she said.

The program at Milton and HOB was started with a state grant of $30,000 for each school. The state will continue to pay $20,000 at each school to fund the program until fifth grade, Kolakowski said.

However, she said, new startup and operating grants for subsequent years have been cut in half.

If approved by the state, Love Creek, Shields and Rehoboth elementaries would each receive $15,000 for their first year and $10,000 a year until the first enrolled class reaches fifth grade.

Kolakowski said the district would have the option to combine the total grant and distribute where needed. “It would allow us to be more creative,” she said.

Parent Jessica Bohl said her daughter has blossomed in the Milton Elementary immersion class.

“The program has built confidence in her,” she said.

Some parents, however, were concerned the program may be growing too fast. Earlier this school year, Jackie Wager said there weren't any Spanish-speaking substitutes when the regular teachers were out, leaving a learning gap.

“We have to look at what's doing well and look at what we can do to better serve our students,” Wager said. “There's a shortage of highly qualified bilingual teachers. We don't have the subs yet.”

Parent Kathleen Fisher also said she was concerned when her daughter missed Spanish instruction while her teachers were out. “We want to make sure the program we have on the ground is successful,” she said.

Principal Conaway acknowledged that they were unable to find Spanish-speaking substitutes when the two teachers were out, but the district is working on building a list of bilingual substitutes. “There are glitches, but parent input is welcome,” she said.

Gladfelter said HOB is developing connections with teachers from Spain and Puerto Rico to build the substitute pool.

Board President Andy Lewis said the district should reach out to parents who may be unaware substitute jobs are available.

“There are a lot of synergies that can be built up,” he said. “There are people in our community who may not be aware of the program because it is so new.”

Bohl agreed the more opportunities available for people to work as substitutes, the more people will sign up.

“Demand will create a supply, especially when there are five schools that need subs,” Bohl said.