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Plan to teach kindergarten in Spanish & English triggers criticism
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RIPON — Teaching Ripon Unified kindergartners simultaneously in English and Spanish is drawing objections from parents and teachers alike.

Principal Michael Gillespie of Lodi’s Joe Serna Charter School and two students spoke at Monday’s school board meeting on their successes at the only dual immersion school in San Joaquin County.

Flor Ramirez, a second year student at Delta, and eighth grader Samuel Gillespie both felt that the experiences they have had prepared them better for high school and for college giving them an edge over single language students.  Samuel – an eighth grader – said it made it easier to make friends with Hispanic children by being able to speak their language as he grew up with them over the past nine years.

Gillespie added that all of the students in his classes can read and write proficiently. He didn’t think not being taught 100 percent in English had hindered him in the least.  Flor pointed out that her classmates from elementary school – many now at Delta College – have voiced their appreciation for the program that gave them an edge in their education.

The positive testimony did little to blunt criticism from parents and teachers alike.

Ripona School elementary teacher Jodi Otten – formerly a reading specialist – voiced her strong opposition toward the program.  She said her concern is that the administration and the teaching personnel are now stretched to their limits with more being continually expected of them.

Otten said Ripon schools do not have the time, personnel or resources for the dual immersion program.

Colony Oak parent Chet Huskey said through his research of other schools he found online,  it appeared that the dual immersion had become a magnet for Hispanic students while other children were moving away from the program and their school districts.

Ripona School teacher Pam McClure echoed the caution of other speakers saying she now has 33 students in her class and is unable to obtain more than $51 in support for educational materials from the district. She spends $600 of her own money due to the budget squeeze. 

“I think it is a really great idea, but not now,” she said.

It was agreed by some that getting rid of the Readers’ Workshop due to the economic crunch was the worst thing to happen in the classroom. They want the district to revive the readers’ workshop before entering into an immersion program.

Administrator Kathy Coleman said the program would cost $6,500 in startup funds at just one school site, but two transferring students coming into Ripon from outside the district would pay for those costs.  She also noted there is flexibility in the percentage ratio of the students volunteering in the classroom.

Parent Jennifer Brogan told trustees that because the community is just hearing about the program that they need to wait for community support and for the teaching staff to buy into the plan.

Ripon High senior Brittany Mayberry addressed the school board saying she had talked to her friends in the high school’s leadership program who feel they can help in providing comprehension and understanding tutoring for students needing workshop assistance.  She said that they could possibly be available to help elementary school kids during their sixth or seventh period as their community service effort.

Retired high school teacher Carla Escola questioned the planned immersion class size of 30 students while the model was only for 20 – 15 English and 15 Spanish speaking.  “Why not 100 percent immersion for the Spanish speaking students?” she asked – which is what the district is offering currently.

Weston Elementary parent Clair West said she is concerned about the direction her daughter’s third grade is taking now.  She noted her daughter sits at her desk for 45 minutes every day along with 70 percent of the class waiting for the other 30 percent to catch up. West says her daughter is losing interest in school.

School board President Mike Fisher recalled when he was in school the program was 100 percent immersion for the Spanish speakers in kindergarten.  Now the district is proposing a 90 percent immersion of the English speaking students – a complete switch.

“I am told the (test) scores go down until the third or fourth grade and then they will increase,” he said.  “I am looking for a program for all the kids.”

Trustee Ernie Tyhurst said he wanted to give the program more time and thought – asking to continue the proposal to a workshop at a later date.  “I don’t want to take action tonight,” he said, and trustees agreed. 

No time had been set for a workshop.