NAME: Lucas Elementary School.
LOCATION: Between Roeding and Don Pedro roads just west of Mitchell Road.
OPENING: In fall.
WHAT SETS IT APART: All students will be taught 50/50 in English and Spanish.
GOAL: K-1 the first year, K-6 in six years.
Education will soon look different in Ceres -- at least for one school, Lucas Elementary School, which opens in July.
If the program is successful, dual immersion education could be the trend for all future Ceres schools as it is in Texas.
What's different about it? For the first time ever in Ceres, roughly a third of the 180 students expected at Lucas the first year will consist of Spanish speakers who will be instructed in English half the time and Spanish the other half. A third of the students will be from English speaking households who will receive split instruction in Spanish and English. The other third will be from households where both languages are used. The goal of Ceres Unified School District (CUSD) at Lucas is to produce high-achieving bilingual students who have a greater appreciation for the other culture and language, less chance of dropping out and a higher interest in college.
"In this program we focus on academic achievement with all the English skills and all the Spanish skills," said Israel Gonzalez, principal of the new school.
Through in a series of meetings throughout the district, Gonzalez has been pitching for parents to volunteer their children for the program and asking for a commitment to be in the program for five to seven years to "get the most benefits."
"If they get pulled early, it could be a problem," admitted Gonzalez. "Sometimes one of the negatives about the language programs is that when somebody goes one or two years and then they get pulled, well then that means they lost out on a full year of instruction in a regular English only school. We don't want that so we want a commitment from parents for five to seven years."
According to Gonzalez, studies have shown that the traditional model, where Spanish students are pulled out for English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction are not as academically prepared as under the 50/50 dual immersion program.
"(As a benefit) what we want to say is not only bilingualism but we want to say bi-literacy because we want our students to be bi-literate in both languages by the time they're in the sixth grade," said Gonzalez.
The school plans to open with four kindergarten classrooms and four first-grade classrooms the first year, and continue to add grades in subsequent years until Lucas is a K-6 campus.
While response has been strong, it hasn't been overwhelming either. About 65 have been signed up for 95 available slots in each grade level. Since bus service has not been developed, parents would either have to transport their kids to the campus located near Mitchell and Don Pedro Road or let students walk.
Gonzalez listed a number of other advantages for students who will be enrolled in the 50/50 program at Lucas. He said they include:
• Increased cognitive skills to "think outside the box";
• Increased job opportunities as an adult since they can speak both languages fluently;
• Fluency in both English and Spanish by sixth grade;
• Lowering drop-out rates among Latino students from the current 20 percent;
• Developing a higher interest in attending college or university;
• Fostering an appreciation for other cultures.
The registration deadline is fast approaching but Gonzalez says the time may be extended if the numbers aren't there. CUSD officials had originally expected a greater numbers of sign-ups and the need for a lottery system.
Fernando Raya, a Mexican-American parent born in the United States, attended the parent information session held last week at Caswell Elementary School. He liked what he heard, especially after receiving assurances that English instruction would not fall out. Raya said the Lucas program could be a good one for his daughter Valeria, who is still 3.
Gonzalez reported that parents of all backgrounds are interested in the program.
"We have a lot of ‘Spanish' kids who don't speak Spanish and are seeing an interest from them as well. There are kids growing up here without the Spanish but parents want them to learn Spanish."
CUSD officials admit it may be problematic with English-only parents when it comes time to helping their students with the Spanish portion of their homework, and vice versa. To help with that, CUSD is considering a parent academy, said Gonzalez, that would provide useful tips to help their children.
With construction on the campus wrapping up, Gonzalez said CUSD has hired all eight teachers for Lucas. Five teachers have their BCLAD (Bilingual Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development) credentials, which means they can teach in both English and Spanish.
The final parent meeting to explain the dual immersion program will take place tonight at 6 p.m. at La Rosa Elementary School. All schools have information and registration packets, said Gonzalez, with sign-ups ending at the end of the week.