La Casita fully integrating dual-language program

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Endearingly named “the little house” in Spanish, the brick school on the eastern side of Clovis already exudes culture: Flamenco dancers trained at the school twirl in colorful attire at civic events; Spanish words decorate hallways and classrooms, and Spanish food is exchanged between staff, parents and students regularly.

Soon, La Casita Elementary School will embrace that heritage even more.

In the next seven years, the school will replace English instruction with dual-language instruction, according to school officials.

All incoming La Casita kindergartners will be enrolled in the dual-language program beginning next year, receiving 75 percent of classroom instruction in Spanish and the remainder in English. As they ascend in grade level, their language instruction will gradually become more balanced, said David Briseno, former La Casita principal and current Clovis Schools administrator.

Dual-language classrooms at the school already outnumber English-only classrooms, Briseno said. The transition to a full dual-language school will help ease some confusion created by the split, he said.

Also, for students whose first or native language is not English, the option of instruction in a dual-language program is especially appealing, Briseno said. There are 750 students in the Clovis Municipal School District dubbed English Language Learners for whom English is not a first or native language, Briseno said. There are 136 English Language Learners enrolled at La Casita.

“Participation in the program is voluntary,” Briseno said, “but parents (of ELL students) seem to prefer the option because their children are learning in their home language — the language the children feel comfortable with. And many parents understand the importance of being bilingual.”

An overwhelming majority of La Casita students and their parents are in favor of the transition, according to a survey conducted by La Casita administration. Every parent and student in the school responded to the survey, according to administrators.

About 94 percent of students supported the change. About 90 percent of parents residing within the La Casita school zone supported it, whereas about 97 percent of parents residing outside the school zone were supporters.

Enrollment priority at La Casita is given first to in-zone families, and then to English Language Learners, Briseno said.

Because the transition to a total dual-language school is instructional, approval by school board members is not necessary. But Vice President Max Best voiced his support for the initiative anyway during a Tuesday night school board meeting.

He said the demand for bilingual skills is on the rise. “A greater need for this will be seen in the future. There is no doubt about it,” Best said.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
• Judge Ribble Holloman administered oaths of office for new school board officers Mark Lansford, president; Max Best, vice president, and Lola Bryant, secretary.

• Wayne Anderson presented a review of the “Music in Our Schools,” an annual, two-week-long series of events designed to celebrate music in schools that recently ended. He said the program was successful, with about 800 people attending the grand concert of the series.

• A contract for a furnace addition at Marshall Junior High School was awarded to Newt and Butch’s Roofing and Sheet Metal for $89,739. The boiler in use at the school must be removed, said Gene Bieker, Clovis Muncipal Schools director of operations. “We have a boiler we can no longer control. So it’s a hazard,” he said. Two other contracts, one for the purchase of 360 calculators and another for the construction of a bus loop at Mesa Elementary, were awarded. The Mesa award went to K. Barnett and Sons of Clovis for $74,263. The calculators will be purchased by Valley Business Machines for $34,214.

• The superintendent announced an action team will be formed to assess overpopulation at Yucca Junior High School. She said the team will gauge several options to alleviate the problem, including redistricting. For more information, contact 769-4300.

• The next school board meeting was rescheduled to April 4 because of some board member time conflicts. The meeting will be held at its regular time and location, 5:30 p.m. in the Clovis Schools Administration Building, 1009 Main Street.