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Ripon students may be taught in English, Spanish in kindergarten
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RIPON — Dual language immersion is on the horizon within the Ripon Unified School District where students may be taught a foreign language in both Spanish and English beginning initially at the kindergarten level. 

The unique classes would be made up of half English-speaking students and half Spanish-speaking.

Ripon’s education model is designed to better prepare all students to become more productive, responsible and contributing members of the changing global society by providing a nurturing environment that strongly promotes the realization of their individual potential.

Schools up and down the San Joaquin Valley have employed the two-way immersion program as far back as 1998 in Fresno, 2000 in Turlock and 2002 in Hilmar.  San Joaquin County, however, has only one school with the dual immersion of students in the two languages of English and Spanish at the Joe Serna, Jr. Charter School in Lodi. 

Students in the Dual Language programs are presented with the social and cognitive benefits of bilingualism where they gain a second language, a broader vocabulary and multiple views of the world.

The Ripon Unified School District Board of Trustees was shown a Power Point presentation on the program Monday night that would have certain kindergarten classes taught first 90 percent of the time  in Spanish and ten percent in English.  Parents would be asked to sign their children up for the dual language classes and agree to leave their students in the program for a number of years.

The school trustees will further review and address the possible adoption of the program at their meeting next Monday night in the city council chambers at 7 p.m.

The definition of the Dual Language Immersion Program is an educational approach in which students learn two languages in an instructional setting that integrates subject content presented in English and another language – most often Spanish.

While the kindergarten level would provide instruction in Spanish 90 percent of the time, it drops to 80 percent in the first grade, 70 percent in the second grade, 60 percent in the third, while in the fifth grade and above the instruction is 50 percent in  Spanish and 50 percent in English. 

Studies have shown that most students need five to seven years to acquire the second language well enough to function academically in both languages where a student can transfer the knowledge and skills acquired in one language over to the other.  By continuing to develop the two languages, it is noted that children’s educational and cognitive development is enhanced.

Last Monday night’s school board presentation pointed out that the languages are kept separate at all times – the students are not.  No translation is provided and teachers are encouraged to trust the long term language learning process.

“Instructional approaches are organized to aid both acquisition and learning so that language is taught formally and informally and instruction is student-centered and content based,” the presentation explained.

The Lodi charter school offers visual and performing arts each week in their K-8 classes with instrumental music in grades 4-8.  There is also a strong focus on language arts, math, science and social science with an emphasis on application of information and knowledge.

Ripon parents are being asked to trust and support the process noting that they will recognize the benefits of their child being bilingual and bi-literate in the twenty-first century.  It was also noted that the program promises to provide students with the cognitive, social, personal and economic advantages of knowing more than one language.

Studies by Collier and Mahrer and Christian in the 1990s have shown that,  for the most part,  both the language minority students and the language majority children are early to outperform their peers in their first language -- by the upper elementary grades they outperform others in the secondary language used by both students and teachers.

Another advantage of the Dual Language programs is that they motivate parents to secure greater resources in order to ensure educational excellence, the presentation pointed out.

English learners in school,  who participate in the Dual Language programs early in their schooling,  have been found to more likely finish high school while engaging in a college course of study.

“We expect excellence,” the Ripon Unified School District states in its vision statement.  “The Ripon Unified School District is committed to offering the highest quality education in the San Joaquin Valley.  We provide a safe, positive and stimulating environment where students are our first priority.  Our district has a state-of-the-art technology, is cutting edge and abundant in all areas of the curriculum.  It is accessible to students and staff both at school and at home, keeping the district competitive.  We recognize that mutually beneficial relationships are essential between the district and the community.

“Our children enjoy coming to school.”