VALPARAISO — Parkview Elementary School kindergartners are getting a lesson in Spanish thanks to legislation that created a Dual Language Immersion pilot program grant.
Parkview was one of five Indiana schools in the state awarded the grant.
"Our kindergarten students are making outstanding progress," Parkview Principal Anne Wodetzki said. "There is so much you can learn from a dual language program. It's not only language, it's about culture and diversity. What a gift in today's global society."
The Department of Education awarded a total of $422,532 in grants, which were funded by the state during the 2015 legislative session. They provide funds to school corporations that establish dual language immersion programs in Mandarin, Spanish, French or any other language approved by the Indiana Department of Education.
Parkview received $82,817, which covers planning, instructional materials -- chosen by the school -- staff development training and to hire an additional faculty member, if needed, to run the program or to take over duties of a current teacher instructing the language class.
"Programs like this are exceptionally beneficial to students as they provide students with the opportunity to acquire language skills at a young age," said Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Samantha Hart. "In a two-way immersion program like what Valparaiso is working toward, both native English-speaking children and English learner students benefit from having instruction in their home language as well as another that will lead them toward multilingual proficiency as young adults."
Parkview kindergarten teacher Kristin Nguyen is teaching the Spanish program. She said they are using a lot of gestures, visuals and repetition in the class.
"We're teaching the math standards in Spanish," she said.
Nguyen, a native Spanish speaker, said students will learn concepts, shapes and numbers and will know the days of the week in Spanish. She said students have picked the language up quickly and have not been overwhelmed.
Parkview has to re-apply for the grant next year, and the school may accept interested inter-transfer students from other Valpo elementary schools.
Wodetzki said she would like to expand the program by one grade every year, eventually offering it to all elementary grades. She said there are other teachers at Parkview who speak Spanish, so the program could expand for a couple of years with staff.
If interest in the program continues, school officials would need to look to hire Spanish-speaking teachers as others retire. Transferring teachers to Parkview from other schools in the future is also a possibility to allow the program to expand.
One reason Nguyen believes Parkview was selected for the grant is because she speaks Spanish. There is a shortage of foreign language teachers in the state — a topic Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia brought up at a School Board meeting in the fall.
Indiana has seen more than a 30 percent decline overall in the number of people entering its schools of education, and a similar decline over the last six years in the number of people receiving initial practitioner teaching licenses, according to Hart.
"This teacher shortage impacts all areas of our state and every curriculum area," she said, "though some have seen a greater decline than others."
Wodetzki said there is a shortage of foreign-language teachers, but they are working with other grant recipient schools coordinate efforts to attract more qualified teachers from both the United States and abroad.
Hart said to address the teacher shortage, state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz created a Blue Ribbon Commission made up of educators and other education stakeholders, to develop strategies to recruit and retain educators in classrooms.
"Superintendent Ritz is committed to implementing the strategies that do not require legislative action and will continue to work with the Legislature to develop legislation to put into law those recommendations that do require legislative action," she said.