FUSD Dual Immersion program looking to expand

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hundreds of students in Fresno spend their day speaking and writing Spanish and English in the classroom. Kindergarteners at Ewing Elementary School in Fresno sing songs in Spanish. First graders next door write lessons and speaking Spanish to each other and their teacher. The students are part of Fresno Unified School District's Dual Immersion program.

Maria Maldonado, Assistant Superintendent for English Learner Services, said, "Half of the students are native Spanish speakers and half of the students are English native speakers, with the idea that students benefit from each other's expertise and experiences."

The kindergarten through sixth grade program starts out with 90% of classroom instruction in Spanish, the remaining 10% in English. By sixth grade, it splits 50-50. The 650 students in the program enter seventh grade bilingual and bi-literate. Now, Fresno Unified administrators want to increase enrollment in the program.

Maldonado said, "There's an opportunity to continue growing them. We know that as a state, as a nation and as a world, we need to have people who are fully bilingual."

There are three schools in Fresno that have the program. At Ewing and Leavenworth Elementary schools, roughly 25% of students are enrolled in Dual Immersion, the rest are in traditional, English-only curriculum. Ewing Elementary's principal, Lisa Shipman, would love to see a boost to the program.

Shipman said, "To be able to read and write fluently, to be able to express yourself fluently in a native-like way, it's going to give you that cutting edge when you go into the work place."

Sunset Elementary is a 100% Dual Immersion school but soon it won't be. Some parents are concerned they could lose the program. Parent, Claudia Scott, whose 9-year old daughter is a dual immersion student, said, "We are just concerned that our class numbers are dwindling in this program because I don't think a lot of parents are aware of the opportunity yet."

Sunset will no longer be a charter school. Fresno Unified said the change is to accommodate neighborhood families who want to enroll in an English-only education. Administrators insist the dual immersion program at Sunset is not in danger, but everyone is hoping more students will enroll.

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