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Local: Education

Language immersion high school nears approval

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

Students who finish elementary school fluent in French, Spanish or Chinese could soon have the chance to sharpen their language skills at an International Baccalaureate middle and high school.

The proposed District of Columbia International School, or DCI, is the creation of five public charter elementary schools with language immersion programs in Spanish, French and Chinese. The new charter school would offer grades six through 12, eventually serving up to 1,600 students in the former Delano Hall of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Ward 4.

If approved, the school would open in the fall of 2014 with roughly 200 seats in the sixth grade and 200 in the seventh grade, according to proposals submitted to the charter board.

Families of students in immersion programs at Washington Yu Ying, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom, DC Bilingual, Latin American Montessori Bilingual and Mundo Verde public charter schools have been asking how the students can continue advancing their study of Chinese, French and Spanish, said Mary Shaffner, DCI Board of Trustees president and founding executive director of Yu Ying. As a result, leaders at each of these five "member schools" came up with DCI.

The charter board approved Yu Ying's request to expand into the older grades in December, effectively granting approval to the planned DCI. However, the other four schools' requests will be the subject of a public hearing Monday night.

If those requests are approved, every student who completes elementary school at one of the schools would be guaranteed a seat at DCI. New students could apply through the charter lottery system to one of the member schools. For example, a student who wants to study French would apply to Elsie Whitlow Stokes at DCI, while a student who wants to study Chinese would apply to Washington Yu Ying at DCI.

However, new students will not be able to join after the ninth grade, the schools' applications detail.

Even students who join from other schools before ninth grade will likely face some difficulties if they don't speak one of the three languages in the immersion programs offered, Shaffner said. "Content classes will be taught in the language, so it will be hard to learn social studies in Spanish if you don't speak Spanish."

DC Public Schools also offers Spanish immersion programs at eight schools. However, the school system has not been part of the planning process for DCI, Shaffner said.

The idea of combining five elementary schools to create one upper school is unique -- not just to the District, but nationally, said Don Soifer, who sits on the charter board.

"This high school is going to be a real valuable addition to the D.C. public charter school portfolio."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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