Caesar Rodney School District is planning for its Chinese Immersion Program to move into middle school.
It’s been four years since the first group of kindergarten students enrolled in a course where students learn a foreign language by speaking solely in the chosen tongue.
Supervisor of Instruction Darren Guido, who oversees the program, said there’s much to be done before the scholars move into middle school in 2018.
The district, in conjunction with the Delaware Department of Education, is searching for two teachers, for Postlethwait and Fred Fifer middle schools.
Locating qualified teachers is the most challenging task, Guido said. In addition to being multilingual, he’s looking for engaging teachers.
“It’s going to be our biggest challenge, but it’s no different than finding that middle school teacher who is dynamic in the classroom,” he said.
Caesar Rodney also has a Spanish Immersion program in its third year at Brown Elementary School.
Alison May, spokesperson with the Delaware Department of Education, said the Chinese learners will be one of the first in the state to take the program to middle school.
“They will be the pioneers,” Guido agreed.
At the elementary school level there are usually 50 students in the program. Each day, half are learning in Chinese while the other half learn in English—then they switch.
According to Guido, the district receives $20,000 each year from the DOE for each classroom.
“This can be used to purchase language-specific materials, translating materials into the target language or professional development,” he said. “All other costs are borne by the district.”
Guido anticipates some differences, such as smaller classes because some students may leave before reaching middle school. But he doesn’t expect the impact to be high.
“I am not aware of any students in particular who have dropped out of the program, but some have left due to moving out of the school district,” he said. “Our goal is that when students begin in our immersion program, they and their parents make the nine-year commitment to continue from kindergarten to grade eight.”
However, no matter the class size, Guido said the district will keep the program in two middle schools.
Course work will be different, he said.
“We don’t believe that in the eighth grade students will be studying their social studies content in the target language,” Guido said. “A lot of the focus on eighth grade social studies is United States history.”
Information on signing up for an immersion course is available when parents register their kids for kindergarten.
The names are then placed in a controlled lottery to maintain diversity in the classes. He said they’re trying to avoid any one group of people dominating the courses.
“We want the immersion classrooms to look the same as all the other classrooms,” he said. “It’s not an elite program. It is a kindergarten class that just happens to have half the day listening to someone who speaks another language.”
For the most part, students must start in kindergarten in order to take part. Guido said the only exception is someone coming into the district from a similar immersion program. It isn’t enough to have been enrolled in a foreign language club or class — it must be an immersion program that is equally or more intensive than Caesar Rodney’s.
Consideration might be given to a native speaker since they need to learn English too.
Guido said they’re still planning. Locating teachers and making sure the courses are diverse aren’t the only challenges. With Spanish it isn’t difficult to find books and other teaching materials already translated.
“Chinese is not typically translated by the publisher so it falls on us to get that translated,” he said.
“We haven’t figured it out yet or put down on paper specifically what it’s going to look like,” Guido said. “We still have another year before the kids actually move on to the sixth grade.”
Qi Zhao is the fourth grade teacher at Allen Frear. She taught the same group in kindergarten.
She said she can notice the change in skill as they progress. Even in group discussions, Zhao said, the students are comfortable speaking with each other in Chinese.
“I saw so much progress,” she said. “When the kids came to me they knew nothing about Chinese but after four years in the immersion program my students can write whole paragraphs in Chinese.”