The Norman Transcript

Sun Aug 28, 2011, 01:54 AM CDT

NORMAN — When Ronald Reagan Elementary opens on 24th Avenue Southeast about this time next year, it will have a decidedly French twist. It will be Norman Public Schools’ first language immersion school. One kindergarten class and one first grade class will spend half of the day immersed in the French language.

Math and science will be taught in French. Language and Social Studies will be taught in English. It’s a great fit with kindergarten and first grade since their academic knowledge is at a basic level, just like their language.

Most of the approximately 50 slots will be open to students who live in the Reagan district and a few seats will likely be available to students who desire to transfer into the new school and learn French language and culture. With no boundaries set and no indication of parents’ choice, school officials say they will be developing a selection criteria in coming months.

The immersion concept is patterned after the European and Canadian models where children are introduced to languages other than those spoken at home. Lawmakers in Utah, seeing the economic development benefits, have mandated immersion goals. If the students are successful, Norman could add additional immersion sites with other languages.

“Children up to the age of about 10 to 12, when they learn a second language, it is actually stored in the same part of the brain and it moves over when they become adults,” said Janet Gorton, NPS world language coordinator. “Younger children are the easiest to teach. They learn it much like they learn their native language.”

The students will stay together through elementary school, most likely with different teachers. If a student leaves Reagan, another one could transfer in if they were language proficient.

Teachers have yet to be identified but Gorton says she expects to have many candidates. The district is working with the OU College of Education which has a partnership with a French teachers college. Teachers must be proficient in language and also certified in early child development. The program’s goal, beyond language proficiency, is that students meet all of the district’s academic goals.

Sherry Cox, OU assistant dean in the College of Education, said two potential teaching candidates have been identified. One is a native French speaker and the other was a French major who switched to the College of Education. She said the program is unique in that teachers must be certified as well as proficient in language and culture.

“We’re trying to homegrow our teachers. You’re teaching the content to the students, not just the language,” she said.

The partial day immersion came out of a global awareness thinking process.

“It’s a great idea for Norman but it was in the dream category,” Cox said. “Dr. (Superintendent Joe) Siano saw the beauty of it. In the globalized society that we have now, there is a need for these type of programs,” Cox said.

Gorton said Tulsa schools have an immersion project in French and Jenks schools have a Chinese program.

“We found that, from talking to everyone, one of the challenges is making sure you have the proper staff,” Gorton said.

By going the way of partial immersion, teachers can use English to reinforce concepts learned in French. Students will also learn the French culture.

“You can’t learn language without learning culture,” she said. “Students love cultures of the world.”

Norman currently teaches courses in Spanish, French, Latin and Chinese. She senses excitement building for the program at Reagan.

“I think what’s really great is to have a district, at a time when finances can be challenging, to go out there and do something that’s really progressive.”

Andy Rieger



One Response to “Norman’s newest school will have a decidedly French twist”

  1. Jason on October 31st, 2012 3:28 pm

    Great to see you adopting the immersion process. It’s the best way to speak a foreign language and I’ve used it to learn both French and German. It’s amazing how quickly you can pick up the language through this technique. It should help the kids pick up French really quickly and speak it with confidence.

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