Foreign language options offered

Making Myrtle Place Elementary a model for French immersion instruction starting next year is one recommendation made by a task force organized to chart the future growth of foreign language immersion options in the Lafayette Parish school system.

Immersion classes in French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese are offered at select schools in the parish, however, none have a full schoolwide implementation of foreign language immersion, district officials said.

The task force proposed creating a schoolwide French immersion program at Myrtle as the first step in a plan to grow immersion enrollment in the district from fewer than 1,200 students to about 4,500 students over the next six years, said Nicole Boudreaux, a world language specialist.

Students in immersion classes take their core classes — except for English language arts — in their foreign language of study. Lafayette started French immersion classes 20 years ago and more recently added Spanish and Chinese.

For the past few months, a task force that included teachers, parents, district employees, School Board members and the French-, Spanish-, and Chinese-speaking communities devised a six-year plan for the expansion of immersion options. The board received details in a workshop and meeting on Dec. 12.

Telephone and Internet surveys, as well as data analyzed by the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on immersion student demographics and academic performance helped shape the recommendations, Boudreaux told board members.

Some recommendations involve moving some classes to different schools to expand access.

For instance, the plan for Myrtle involves moving students enrolled in French immersion at Alice Boucher Elementary and S.J. Montgomery, which both have small French immersion enrollments of 31 and 45 respectively. Currently, 98 students are enrolled in French immersion at Myrtle.

Boudreaux asked the board to support the Myrtle plan for three years as part of a “phase one,” a time frame that should provide enough data to support a “phase two” expansion in the 2016-17 school year, which involves more shuffling of programs.

“Immersion needed to prove itself before major changes presented in phase two could take place,” she told board members.

As part of phase two, Myrtle would become a preschool-only immersion school with all three languages and Lafayette Middle would become a kindergarten through eighth grade immersion-only school for all three languages while remaining an academy of environmental sciences, Boudreaux said.

The Chinese- and Spanish-speaking communities requested “that we open another pathway in the south of the city to accommodate people who live (far) from Boucher,” Boudreaux said. Plantation Elementary was identified as a possible site, she said, and future growth could include an immersion-only high school, a concept under review by ULL.

School Board members questioned some of the logistics of the recommendations, such as the impact on transportation costs and the district’s desegregation plan if programs are moved from some schools, such as Boucher, a World Languages Academy and the only school that offers all three languages.

Boudreaux has said that the task force is reviewing board members’ concerns. She said the recommendations will be presented to the board again before March to meet a deadline to submit its requests for foreign associate teachers to the state.