Dual-language immersion program in sight for Cortland Elementary


A new learning opportunity is coming to Cortland Elementary School in the near future where students will learn to read, write and speak in two languages.

It’s called a dual-immersion program and in the fall of 2025 kindergarteners will receive bilingual education and learn content in the Spanish language.

“What the program does is give an opportunity for every student whether their home language is some amount of English or not is to leave bilingual as well,” said Jose Martinez, assistant director of federal and state programs for Seymour Community Schools. “It’s one of those super cool opportunities to leave school speaking two languages and it’s for everybody.”

About 36% of Seymour’s population is made up of English-learner students — those that have a native language that is not English.

Martinez said language screening is a standard process for anyone who enrolls in Seymour schools at anytime. This home-language survey helps identify if an individual is an English-learner and needs English-language proficiency.

By federal law, students are placed in an English development program, also known as an EL service, which Seymour schools provide.

The dual-language program, however, is different as it will promote proficiency in two languages instead of one.

“We want to treat it as an asset and getting everyone this opportunity to learn that second language is huge,” Martinez said.

The program first launched in 2015 and is fairly new with 42 programs across the state.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, 30 schools in 21 schools corporations were awarded a combined $595,000 for the 2022-2023 school year with state grant dollars supplemented by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. This includes 28 schools that are expanding their existing programs, including one in Bartholomew County.

“It’s big in the western part of the country and where these schools are established they function well,” Martinez said. “Parents have even set up camps to make sure they can enroll their students. It’s one of those opportunities that they don’t want to miss out on like a concert or basketball tickets.”

Superintendent Brandon Harpe said Cortland was chosen to house this program with growth in mind.

“As our district continues to grow, the enrollment in Cortland hasn’t kept up with that,” he said. “Roughly 50% of the students at Cortland are on waivers and Cortland seemed like the right candidate for this program, because we can grow that school with the rest of the district.”

Waivers are students that have transferred to the school or live out-of-district. This can happen for a variety of causes. Harpe said a couple reasons could be a family member works in a certain township or the family prefers a certain class or teacher. The waivers only get fulfilled if there is room in the classes.

“Cortland has always maintained high academic standards and we feel like with this program we can keep that focus on high standards,” he said.

The corporation recently applied for a $50,000 development grant for the dual-language immersion program.

Martinez said the grant will fund start-up costs associated with professional development, curriculum and programming, classroom supplies/materials and teacher equipment.

So, how will this look?

The approach the corporation plans to use is called two-way immersion, a program in which a student population consists of both English language speakers and Spanish language speakers.

The class will be in a 50/50 model where instruction is provided in the Spanish language 50% of the time. The delivery of this instruction is typically provided by two teachers per grade, one bilingual certified teacher and one certified teacher in two separate classrooms.

“For example the first part of the day, they would learn the alphabet and content in Spanish and then the other half of the day they switch to English reinforcing the alphabet and content,” Martinez said.

Martinez said they will reinforce literacy, but lessons will not be repeated twice.

“For example, if they were going to learn about the Indiana state flag in English, it would not be taught again Spanish,” he said.

Cortland Elementary School Principal Lori Lister said the plan is to eventually add a grade level every year.

“Each year we will grow another grade to the point it will be kindergarten through sixth grade all in dual immersion,” she said. “The first graders that will be there in the fall of 2025 will not be in the dual immersion program.”

Martinez said another benefit to this program besides students leaving the school bilingual is sociocultural competence.

“I think when we have an intentional approach to learning another language on both ends everybody’s community becomes one,” he said. “We become knowledgeable of each others community.”

Martinez said its possible to walk into certain parts of Seymour and not hear English, and vice versa.

“This school can build a bridge between a section of our people that live here so we all know each others nuances of culture and life such as Halloween and Day of the Dead,” he said.

Martinez said this could also provide more community involvement in the future.

“One of the board members talked about the Latino community always coming to the churches fish fry, and something like this would close the gap to where they could be a part of that community event,” he said.

Harpe added that this program will eventually make students an asset in terms of employment as more companies are seeking bilingual workers.

“Our goal is to be a great community partner and one of the things I hear from workforce leaders is they want access to more bilingual workforce,” he said. “This is not the only answer to address that, but this is part of our overall program that we are really excited about to help address that gap in the workforce.”

Harpe said some of the industry leader who have heard of this program already are excited for the possibilities.

The corporation is hosting an information community meeting on the dual-language immersion program that is open to the public for any questions, comments or concerns. It is taking place at 7 p.m. Monday in the gymnasium at Cortland Elementary School.

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