Giving students the bilingual ‘option’ |

Giving students the bilingual ‘option’

John Colson

Aspen, CO ColoradoCARBONDALE Carbondale educators and others are hoping Crystal River Elementary School, where roughly three-quarters of the students speak Spanish as their first language, will adopt bilingual education.According to the Roaring Fork School District, the school board will meet Jan. 10 to hear a presentation from a task force working on the idea since last spring.The task force reportedly consists of Crystal River teachers, administrators and parents, and includes participation by school board members and district Superintendent Judy Haptonstall. According to those involved, the recommendation is teaching one class, or perhaps two, using bilingual techniques, starting this fall.”Our intent is not to make that a bilingual school, but to offer a bilingual program,” Haptonstall said this week, adding that the task force hopes to have a bilingual class by September.DiscussionThe inclusion of bilingual educational at Carbondale schools has been under discussion since at least the late 1990s, when a surge of Spanish-speaking immigrants began to alter the school’s cultural makeup.Many parents privately criticized the previous district administration – and former Superintendent Fred Wall specifically – for what they perceived as an unwillingness to consider providing bilingual education to the elementary grades. This was despite Basalt Elementary School offering bilingual education for more than a decade – with considerable success, according to parents.The school board picked Haptonstall, the former assistant superintendent, to replace Wall after he resigned in June.Charter school trialsKaren Olson, describing the process leading up to the proposal, said interest in bilingual education at Crystal River intensified with the creation of the Ross Montessori Charter School in 2005.Parents unhappy over the elimination of a Montessori strand in the public school curriculum were largely responsible for organizing Ross. The opening of the school, Olson said, “pulled away the lion’s share of the Anglo children” from public schools.A large part of parents’ unhappiness had to do with poor scores on the standardized Colorado Student Assessment Program tests, which put Carbondale Elementary School in danger of a state takeover.Many parents blamed the poor CSAP scores on the preponderance of Spanish-speaking students not prepared for the tests and thus lowering the school’s overall scores. Some worried that the level of education at Crystal River was falling, a charge public school officials and their supporters vehemently denied.Olson said the school’s CSAP performance has improved in recent years, something she does not wish to jeopardize with too many changes.’Go slow, don’t rush’After considerable research, which included visiting other schools to see bilingual classes at work, Olson said, the task force concluded that bilingual classes would be “a way to get children to English language proficiency” and teach Spanish to English-speaking students.Proponents stressed that the program, if the board approves it, would start small, with either one kindergarten class, or a class in kindergarten and one in the first grade. The remainder of the school would continue with traditional instruction and educational materials.”Everything we read said, ‘Go slow, don’t rush,'” Olson said.’The next level’Colin Laird, chairman of the Crystal River Elementary Accountability Team, said the school already is doing much of what constitutes a bilingual program, such as offering Spanish literacy classes to Spanish-speaking students, and Spanish-language instruction to English speakers.”We’re just taking it to the next level,” he said, noting that “all across the country, places have adopted this model for student achievement” in areas where there is a large population of non-English speakers.Haptonstall said details of the budgetary impact of starting bilingual classes at Crystal River are not yet known, but predicted it would be “minimal” in terms of classroom materials. The staff is already in place to take on the instructional duties, she said.Laird, director of Healthy Mountain Communities, said a considerable amount of information is available at the project website [ ]. He invited anyone interested to visit the site, but to remember, “The information on the website is a working draft and subject to change before going to the Re-1 board.”John Colson’s e-mail address is