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Oui, merci! Providence first-graders can learn in French, come fall

February 8th, 2013 Posted in Opinion

Story & photo by Paul Christiansen

PROVIDENCE— Many called it a gift they could give their children. As parents gathered at Providence Elementary Tuesday night to hear details about the French dual-language immersion program their sons and daughters will enter in the fall, most were excited and eager for the opportunity.

Providence Elementary Principal Curt Jenkins welcomes parents to the meeting about the school's dual-language immersion program..

Providence Elementary Principal Curt Jenkins welcomes parents to the meeting about the school’s dual-language immersion program. Photo by Paul Christiansen

Alexis Thompson, one of the first parents to arrive, called the immersion program “a fabulous opportunity to invest in our children’s future.”

Other parents came prepared with questions that had crossed the minds of many in attendance.

“I want to know why our kids will be entering a French language program,” said Kara Smith. “I haven’t heard many people speaking French here in Cache Valley. The dominant foreign language here is Spanish. Wouldn’t it benefit them more if they learned that?”

Gregg Roberts, dual language immersion specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, addressed parents’ concerns with data and video materials on statewide, national and world figures.

“French is the third-most-used language in business internationally,” Roberts said. “English is first, Mandarin Chinese is second. Data shows there are more French speakers in Africa alone than there are Spanish speakers in South America. Having this set of language skills at a child’s disposal will only help build opportunities for their future.”

Cache County School District has three additional elementary schools set to enter their own immersion programs when the school year begins in August.  Sunrise Elementary in Smithfield will have a Portuguese program, Heritage Elementary in Nibley will be based in Spanish and North Park Elementary will immerse students in Mandarin Chinese.

Providence students will enter the program in first grade, spending half of each day learning core materials such as math, social studies and science through teaching and learning exercises completely presented in French. The second half of the day will be spent studying the English literature and the English language.

“Starting students at this young age is most effective because they haven’t been set into their ways yet,” said Roberts. “Their minds are open and they are eager to learn. It’s the first time they’re presented with such an amount of information and they’re very receptive at this point.”

The immersion program won’t be required of all students, Roberts said. Students can enter into a traditional Utah curriculum that will be contain only English-based materials but, he said, those students will miss out on an opportunity that puts multi-lingual students ahead of peers.

“The world our students face in the 21st century is not the world we grew up in,” Roberts said. “Language skills are going to be absolutely essential and they’ll have a big effect on Utah’s ability to compete economically on a country and world level. This program helps make students globally competent.”

The district’s recent proposal to close Providence Elementary and relocate students to Spring Creek Middle School had some parents questioning what effect that might have on the immersion program.

“I’m wondering if the district’s plan will shake the program up,” said parent Will Larsen. “The program sounds great but I want to know if it could potentially be put to an end before it begins.”

Cache County Superintendent Steven Norton told parents the school relocation could only benefit the students’ ability to learn. “If the proposal meets with the expectations of the people of Providence, moving this program down there won’t do anything other than provide a nicer building,” Norton said.

“We’ll have a nicer area to meet in and a nicer facility for students. Moving down there means some kids will be traveling from here a different direction than they probably ever thought they would. It’s something the community needs to discuss together.”

Norton said there will be several meetings in the near future throughout the communities of Cache County. He encouraged people of Providence to voice their concerns at those meetings and ask any questions they might have.


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