‘Still in the dream stage’

School system asked to expand world language immersion

LAFAYETTE - The future of the Lafayette Parish school system's foreign language programs could include a stand-alone immersion school or more preschool immersion classes, the district's world language specialist said.

Any recommendations for the 2013-14 school year likely won't be presented to the School Board for its consideration until January, said Nicole Boudreaux, the world language specialist.

"We are pushing really hard the idea of stand-alone schools, but we do feel that we need to prove ourselves," Boudreaux said. "What we'd like to suggest with the board is that they give us a chance with one school with one language that we can concentrate on so we can show what can happen when you have a stand-alone immersion school."

Other recommendations could include expanding preschool immersion classes and creating immersion options beyond high school, she said. "We're thinking any of these three things can happen without much expense," she said.

The recommendations haven't been finalized and are still under review by a task force, Boudreaux said. "We're still in the dream stage," she said.

The results of a recent survey of the public's opinion on the potential growth of immersion in the district is also under review, she said.

She added that more public input will be gathered Saturday during the district's Fall Frenzy, a showcase of schools of choice programs like immersion. Surveys and comment cards will be available at the event scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cajundome Convention Center.

The recommendations approved by the board will be included in the district's six-year turnaround plan.

The district currently offers immersion programs in French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese at various school sites across the parish. Students are immersed in the foreign language during the majority of their lessons beginning in kindergarten and at some sites in preschool classes. The immersion program does not extend beyond middle school with only more advanced French courses offered at Lafayette High. The newest immersion program, in Mandarin Chinese, serves students in kindergarten through third grade and is growing as its first group of students advances by grade level.

More than 1,100 students are enrolled in immersion programs across the district. The majority - 974 - are enrolled in French with 173 in Spanish and 36 in Mandarin Chinese.

The Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning reviewed immersion program data and confirmed district findings that immersion students outperform their non-immersion peers, Boudreaux said. She presented data on student performance in the standardized Louisiana Educational Assessment Program or LEAP test to the School Board during its Oct. 27 retreat.

"Ninety-eight percent of our students pass LEAP compared to 68 at the district level," Boudreaux told board members. The data has helped dispel a misconception that the program does not serve a diverse student population, Boudreaux said.

When the district began its first immersion program in French in 1992, the majority of the students were white from "paying-lunch families," she said.

"That has changed tremendously, and now we are very much even with the racial makeup of the district, and we are 50/50 when it comes to free/ reduced and paying lunch. That has been a huge change," Boudreaux said.