Local: Education

D.C. charter schools eye city's first pre-K-12 language immersion

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

D.C. charter schools are set to offer students language immersion from prekindergarten through graduation for the first time, as four schools join forces to create an international secondary school.

Advocates of the District of Columbia International School say it would assuage the anxieties of parents who are interested in multilanguage charter schools for their children but wary of where their students will end up when they age out of charter elementary or middle schools with no guaranteed next step.

The sixth-through-12th-grade campus, to be housed in the former Delano Hall of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Ward 4, received initial approval from the charter school board when it approved an amendment to Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School.

Yu Ying, which teaches Mandarin Chinese to prekindergarten-through-sixth-grade students, has partnered with Latin American Montessori Bilingual (Spanish), Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom (French and Spanish) and Mundo Verde (Spanish). The remaining schools are expected to submit their charter amendments by February, paving the way for "DCI" to open in at least a temporary location to sixth- and seventh-grade classes by 2014. True to its global mission, the school would offer an International Baccalaureate program.

Each of the four schools would feed into DCI, with students guaranteed seats. Although each school says it would maintain its own identity and track its own graduates, the students would be DCI students and in many cases share classes and teachers. The school would be funded as one large school, advantageous because the city funds each campus based on its number of students.

"Our kids needed a path to continue their language learning," said Mary Shaffner, Yu Ying's director of special projects and the school's founding executive director. "You can't really provide a middle-school experience with 30 to 50 children. Plus, they've known each other for so long that by the time they get to middle school, they want to meet new people."

Shaffner and her counterparts at the three partner charters say they have received pressure from parents to create options for their students beyond the current grades offered. Yu Ying and Stokes offer classes through the sixth grade, while Mundo Verde is chartered through the eighth, and Latin American Montessori Bilingual runs through fifth.

"Our parents have been asking us for probably 12 years about the possibility of expanding to middle schools," said Linda Moore, executive director of Stokes, which, in its 15th year is the oldest school in the consortium. "The fact of the matter is, with the exception of one DC Public Schools' middle school, there are no options in D.C. for advanced second-language study."

Chuck Thies, the parent of a second-grader, said he and his wife felt like they were taking a risk when they moved their son out of DC Public Schools for Yu Ying. "We knew there would be a strong potential that we'd have to leave the city," Thies said. Now, for many parents, "there's a huge sigh of relief."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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