Immersion school proposed

Panel says high school would need ‘seed money’

“We recognize it will have to start small … but not so small it’s not an enriching experience.” Paula Carson, UL Lafayette associate vice president  of institutional planning and effectiveness

It will take some “seed money” to get a proposed immersion high school off the ground in Lafayette, but just how much is still unknown, said members of a committee studying what it would take to open the Lafayette school.

The committee’s work is outlined in Act 851, authorized by the Legislature in 2012. The legislation created an exploratory committee to examine the feasibility of opening an immersion high school in Lafayette in 2014-15 with French as the primary language and Spanish and Mandarin Chinese as other language options.

In such immersion schools, all the subjects are taught in a foreign language.

The Lafayette Parish School System would manage the school, with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette serving as a partner.

First-year enrollment targets are for 50 to 75 students with admission and a boarding option open to students outside Lafayette Parish. Within five to 10 years, enrollment could grow up to 750 students.

“We recognize it will have to start small … but not so small it’s not an enriching experience,” said Paula Carson, UL Lafayette associate vice president of institutional planning and effectiveness.

In the draft of its study, the committee stated the school could open within an existing building with a goal of having a stand-alone building at the university’s research park.

While immersion learning is offered in a few districts across the state, most middle schools offer foreign-language classes, said Nicole Boudreaux, Lafayette Parish School System world language specialist.

Boudreaux estimates the enrollment pool for the immersion program could be about 400 eighth-graders in Lafayette Parish who’ve been in an immersion program or taken a foreign language and about 200 students in each neighboring parish.

Statewide, immersion programs are offered in traditional public schools through middle school or the eighth grade. A New Orleans charter school, the International School of Louisiana, offers immersion learning in both French and Spanish through high school.

Four districts currently have both Spanish and French immersion programs: Lafayette, Jefferson, East Baton Rouge and Calcasieu. As of the 2011-12 school year, five other school districts offered only French immersion: St. Martin, Iberia, Assumption, St. Landry and Orleans.

Also, there are at least two private immersion schools in the state.

Lafayette Parish is the only school district to offer a Chinese immersion program, which it started in 2008-09 with its oldest students now in the third grade.

The concept of an immersion high school appealed to the majority of Paul Breaux Middle School students in one of Brigitte Anderson’s eighth-grade French immersion class — if they were able to pursue their other academic and extracurricular interests.

Immersion education in Lafayette Parish ends in eighth grade with an option to take advanced language courses at Lafayette High. The high school also houses schools of choice academies in the performing arts and health careers.

Brennan Michael, 13, said she’ll go to Lafayette High next year and take advanced French classes, but would choose Lafayette High over a new immersion school because she can receive gifted education services and join band at the traditional high school.

“What if you could do immersion and gifted?” Boudreaux asked during a recent class visit.

Michael and other students, who chose Lafayette High not only for the advanced French courses but its academies, said they’d choose an immersion high school if they could pursue their other academic courses.

“I’d prefer to learn a different language,” said Jessica Dugas, 13, noting she’d like to study Spanish.

Some students like Victoria Mello, 14, are headed to Lafayette High, but won’t continue their language study — not for lack of interest but lack of time.

“We have to take French as an elective and I would continue if I had more time in my schedule, but I want to take other classes like speech and debate,” Mello said.

A few students in Anderson’s class said they’ve opted not to continue their language studies because they’ve lost interest or the courses grew too difficult.

On Friday, a small group of committee members discussed ways to attract students, such as delivering curriculum using gifted education techniques and capitalizing on the access to university resources.

The idea of attending school on the university’s campus appealed to students in Anderson’s class, Boudreaux told the small group of committee members Friday.

The committee’s answers to such questions as enrollment and admissions criteria, funding, management is due to the Legislature on Friday.