Spots still open for Lafayette language immersion programs

A few kindergartners can still learn French, Spanish

“We have one teacher with fourth and fifth grade and one teacher with second and third grade. Until the numbers get bigger, we’ll continue to do that” Nicole Boudreaux, parish school system’s world language specialist on the Mandarin Chinese immersion program

The parish school system’s popular foreign language immersion programs still have a few spots left for kindergartners to begin learning their subjects in French or Spanish, school officials say.

Nicole Boudreaux, the school system’s world language specialist, said such programs often have waiting lists of varying lengths — shorter at some schools than others.

The school district offers immersive learning in French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. The immersion classes begin in kindergarten, and students receive instruction in the foreign language of study in all subjects except English language arts.

Immersive learning is one of the district’s many schools of choice programs. Students apply to attend a school of choice and are selected in a computerized lottery system; students not selected get placed on a waiting list.

Boudreaux said some spots are still open because parents of students selected in the lottery have yet to confirm that their children will be attending an immersion program.

“If they have received a letter of acceptance, they need to send their letter of confirmation or call the school of choice office. If not, they might lose their spot,” she said.

About 1,200 students are enrolled in the three immersion programs, with the majority — about 1,000 — in French immersion. That’s an option the district has offered for more than 20 years.

The newest immersion program — Mandarin Chinese — began about five years ago. Those classes moved from Alice Boucher Elementary to a new school site, Plantation Elementary, in August.

Numbers in the program in first through fifth grades are smaller — only four fifth-grade students are expected to continue their Chinese studies at Plantation — so the district has consolidated staff in the program.

“We have one teacher with fourth and fifth grade and one teacher with second and third grade,” Boudreaux said. “Until the numbers get bigger, we’ll continue to do that.”

She said it was important that the district continue the program, especially for the parents who committed to a new learning experience offered by the district.

“They were the pioneers. They trusted us,” Boudreaux said.

In May, the Chinese immersion program was included in a list of proposed budget cuts to help close a shortfall in the district’s operating budget but later was removed.

The program’s cost was estimated at about $390,000, but Boudreaux said much of the cost of the foreign teachers’ salaries are offset by the Chinese government.

Boudreaux said the program is on the right track for growth. The program’s move to Plantation seems to have piqued more interest in Chinese immersion based on interest expressed by parents of kindergarten students.

Boudreaux said a class of 18 kindergartners will begin Chinese immersion studies at Plantation in August. That makes for an ideal class count, she said, but applications still are being accepted.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.