A dual-language immersion program is coming to two Loudoun County elementary schools.
During the Aug. 16 Special Programs and Centers Committee meeting, school district staff members announced Potowmack Elementary School in Sterling and Sanders Corner Elementary School in Ashburn were selected to host the program, which could launch next fall.
The plan is to have two kindergarten classes per school teaching 50/50 English and Spanish with the teachers switching halfway through the day, meaning students would learn Spanish for half of the day and English for the other half.
Suzette Wyhs, supervisor of world languages and cultures, told the committee that students would be learning to read in two languages simultaneously.
“They will be receiving reading instruction, writing instruction and literacy basically in Spanish and English on top of being provided access to content,” Wyhs said. She said that means they will be able to learn math in Spanish, as well.
The plan, according to Wyhs, is to add one grade level each year starting with kindergarten during the 2023-23 school year, then add first grade the following year and so on. “By the sixth year, all grades K-5 will be included in the program,” said Wyhs.
Neil Slevin, executive director of teaching and learning, said they were excited to provide another expanded opportunity for students.
The schools were selected through a process that included an interest survey that was sent out in June. That survey revealed a high interest in having a dual language immersion program in the county, according to the presentation. The next step was an information session on June 29 for all principals. Interested schools then submitted their forms by July 29 saying they were interested in hosting the program. A committee then used a decision matrix to determine which two would be recommended.
Committee Chair Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) pointed out that the school interest survey stood out to her the most in the process.
“If a school isn’t interested it won’t be successful, because you just can’t tell a school they are going to do it. So that piece just really stands out to me, and making sure the schools want to do it. If they buy in, then they will be successful,” she said.
School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said he was excited and hopes the program is extended further once it gets going.
In deciding which schools to choose, school staff members looked at criteria including alignment with the community interest survey, leadership interest, the capacity of the building which also included any boundary changes, transportation, the English Learner population, and the percentage of the home language—in this case, Spanish—for the 50/50 model. Other languages considered were Korean, Chinese and Japanese.
A one-year timeline was presented to show when the program would start in the two schools, projected to start with the 2023-2024 school year.
The dual language program was previously approved through the budget process. It will now go to another vote from the School Board, although the date of that vote is not yet set.