The Mooresville Graded School District is pursuing the creation of a Spanish and English dual language immersion program beginning with the 2020-21 school year for rising kindergarten students.

Jemma Conley, MGSD elementary curriculum coordinator, gave a presentation on the proposed program during the MGSD Board of Education’s monthly meeting Tuesday. Presenting with Conley were Vera Woolard and Doug Thilman, both of Participate Learning, the company that would partner with the school district to implement the language immersion program and offer guidance and support.

The proposed dual language immersion program would take place at each of the district’s three elementary schools — Park View, Rocky River and South — and would add a grade level each academic year so the enrolled students would continue to advance.

The 40 to 48 enrolled students, divided in half into two classrooms, would learn to speak, understand, read and write in English and in Spanish. The students would learn the same curriculum as the other students at the school but alternate classroom days in English and Spanish, Conley said.

The state would issue a waiver to the dual language immersion program to permit more than 21 students in an elementary school classroom which is currently prohibited by state law, Conley said.

A dual language immersion program would have many positive effects, Conley said. “With the dual language program, we see kiddos develop stronger critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, really just developing a strong sense of social and emotional well being,” said Conley. “And great mental health.”

Test scores have also shown the benefits of a dual language immersion program, she said. “Students in a dual language program outperform the students not in a dual language program,” Conley said.

The Board of Education did not take action on officially implementing the dual language immersion program Tuesday but, to gauge interest, a Dec. 16 informational meeting for interested families has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Mooresville High School Performing Arts Center. After the meeting, families with a rising kindergarten student may enroll in the dual language immersion program.

Online applications for the dual language immersion program will also be accepted from Dec. 18 through Jan. 18, 2020. Even if accepted into the program, families must still register their children for kindergarten on Feb. 13 during the district’s official registration day.

MGSD Superintendent Stephen Mauney invited the Board of Education to visit a Cabarrus County school at the end of January where a dual immersion language program has already been implemented and viewed as successful. “I think that we are well behind the curve in equipping our kids for global success…,” Mauney said.

Board member Kerry Pennell asked if the program was searching for students who may not currently know of the MGSD system and Conley said they were talking with churches and local preschools to attract rising kindergarten students and especially those who already speak Spanish.

The district hopes for a three-year commitment from students and their families to stay in the program until second grade to receive the full benefits of it. That’s because in the first couple of years, students in a dual language immersion program may not be on par with students in a regular classroom but research says they will catch up by second grade. By third grade, students in a dual language immersion program will have academically surpassed their peers, Conley said.

Board member Debbie Marsh said she loved the idea of a dual language immersion program but worried kindergartners would be subjected to too many assessments to monitor their progress in addition to mandated state testing. Conley said the dual language assessments are more like informal progress monitoring unlike the formal statewide testing that is required.

In other business, state Rep. John Fraley administered the oath of office to re-elected Board of Education members Roger Hyatt, Marsh and Pennell. The Board of Education also nominated and elected Hyatt to serve as board chairman and nominated and elected Board member Greg Whitfield as vice-chair.

The Board of Education also unanimously approved the 2020-21 school calendar that was discussed at the November meeting. The school year will begin Aug. 4, 2020 and end May 26, 2021, according to the approved calendar.

In other business, the Board of Education recognized several people for their achievements including Marsh, who was recognized for her election to the Board of Directors of the North Carolina School Board Association.

Christine Beaudoin, a teacher assistant at South Elementary School, was recognized with the “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty” award for going out of her way to support the teachers with whom she works, said Mauney.

Alex Theodorakatos, an eighth-grade student at Mooresville Middle School, was recognized by the Board of Education as the “Artist of the Month.”

The Board of Education’s “Students of the Month” awards went to Mooresville Middle School students Gavin Arnold, Phoenix Sosa, Padme Sosa, Hyden Gibbs, Ryland Robl, Jan Torres-Figueroa and Caleb Witherspoon. Arnold and Witherspoon led the meeting in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The eighth-grade softball team and combination eighth- and seventh-grade tennis team at Mooresville Middle School were also recognized for their winning seasons. The softball team had an undefeated 17-0 season and was named the 2019 conference champion. The tennis team was also named the 2019 conference champion and had an undefeated season in conference play.

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