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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

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For the week of April 24 - 30, 2002


Dual immersion hits the valley for lucky kids

Express Staff Writer

Omar Ocampo and Anders VanCalcar are friends. After a year in a dual immersion class at Bellevue Elementary School, they play at each otherís houses. Their mothers read to them in English and then Spanish.

A dual immersion kindergarten class meets at Hemingway Elementary School during a Spanish portion of the dayís class. Back row, left to right: Anthonya Romero, Christina Contreras, Brenda Carrillo, Isabel Kirk, Ellie Punnett, Katia Reyes In front, left to right: Nate Nasvik, Jessica Hurtado, Sole Vargas. Express photo by Dana DuGan

Since Heidi VanCalcar is not proficient in Spanish, this gives her son a chance to listen to stories in Spanish outside of the classroom. The same goes for Omar and his mother, Leslie Ocampo, who get more opportunities to work on their English.

These two kids may never have spoken a word to each other, despite the fact that they go to the same school, if it werenít for the dual immersion program now in effect at both the Bellevue school and Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum.

In 1992, a mere 10 years ago, there were approximately 55 students in the Blaine County School District who fell into the English as Second Language category. Today, there are nearly 400 such students. "Weíre long past the idea that itís not a big part of Blaine County," Bill Quann said last week.

Quann, currently a teacher at the Hailey Elementary School, helped initiate the ESL program based partially on the directives gained three years ago at a meeting with the school board and the community. Quann said the fact that the community was really concerned about the issue was an "eye opener. They wanted the students served and served well."

A committee of educators and administrators was formed to study the issue and visit model programs with dual immersion classes.

The committee included several ESL teachers and was comprised of Quann, Stacey Roth, Tristan Ellison, Kathleen Diepenbrock, Hal Bingham, Carey Principal John Peck, Jamie Harding and Peggy Hills.

Currently, Diepenbrock works most closely with the program. "I have continued to support and coordinate the start-up phase of the grant implementation in collaboration with Heidi Copeland, the project coordinator, and Blake Walsh, the project director." Blake, director of Special Services for the school district, wrote the grant proposal for the program. The federal grant is from the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs.

Harding has been an ongoing advocate for the needs of the limited English proficient students at Hemingway. She modified reading recovery lessons to be taught in Spanish, and supported Spanish literacy development in the first grade at Hemingway.

"School board members have been very positive in their interest and support of this pilot project," Diepenbrock said.

Two board members, Howie Royal and Claudia Fiaschetti made visits to model programs in Oregon when the grant was being proposed last year.

At one school in Bend they found that "The success was phenomenal," Quann said. "Kids were truly bilingual and doing even better than kids who werenít in dual immersion."

This finding backs up a comprehensive study conducted by George Mason University researchers Wayne P. Thomas and Virginia P. Collier, concluding that children in two-way bilingual programs out perform students in one language classes. Their federally financed project took a long-term look at such students, and their records from 1982 to 2000.

The Blaine County program, which begins in the kindergarten classrooms and will feed them though the first and second grades, has two teacher teams. One team is for the 40 students in the program at the Bellevue Elementary School, and the other teaches the 20 students at Hemingway Elementary School. The Bellevue program has a full morning program and an afternoon program.

So many parents were eager to enroll their kids in the program that the school district reluctantly held a lottery last summer to fill the few spots.

One parent, Cindy Kirk, who regularly volunteers, said, "Itís such a great opportunity."

The teams of teachers, Juan Salamanca and Geri London at Bellevue, and Heidi Copeland and Karen Bliss at Hemingway, incorporate Spanish and English into every lesson, and alternate leading the classes. Salamanca also teaches parents of ESL students in the evenings. The program includes many cross-cultural aspects of the curriculum. This week, for instance, they celebrate the Day of the Child, a Mexican holiday, with their families at a park in Hailey.

The results are already apparent These 5- and 6-year-olds respond to the teachers in either language and interact with each other, which is especially gratifying, said Copeland. Where there used to be segregation in the classes, due to ESL students being pulled out for special education, now the class acts as a whole with intermixing between the language groups.

During the school day, the students spend time at activities like art, math, drawing and writing. Itís all "thematically arranged," said Copeland. "It all ties together day to day."

To help bilingual parents integrate all the school districtís parent documents are now translated, parent volunteers make personal contacts, and there is a newcomer center for ESL families.

The parents in Bellevueís classes all have a list of each other's phone numbers, which allows for better after school interaction. When Jake Halopoff had his birthday recently, all the children in the class were invited.

On Monday, April 29, there will be an informational dual-immersion meeting at 7 p.m. at Hailey Elementary School in the conference room. For more information, contact Heidi Copeland 726-3348, ext. 211, and at Bellevue, Kathleen Diepenbrock, 578-0152.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.