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School board looks at adding Spanish or science curriculum to elementary school schedules

If it’s best to start young, Bainbridge elementary students are starting just on time.

Over the next few weeks, the Bainbridge Island School Board will decide between adding foreign language or an expanded science curriculum to next year’s kindergarten through fourth-grade schedules.

“We always want to go back to, I think, our district mission,” said Assistant Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen.

“We’ve got such a strong mission statement where we believe in every kid, ensuring their future and that they’re ready for the global workplace, prepared for college and prepared for personal success.”

A decision earlier this year by the Bainbridge Island School District and Bainbridge Island Education Association called for increasing planning time from 40 minutes per day to 50 minutes for elementary school teachers.

The shift, which is planned to go into effect at the start of the 2014-2015 school year, also opens up

50 minutes per week for additional instructional time.

The school board decided last month that instead of increasing instructional time in the district’s current elementary subject areas, it would use this opportunity to provide new curriculum for K-4 students.

On the table for consideration, is Spanish under the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) model or enhanced science instruction.

FLES programs are becoming more popular in the U.S., said Bang-Knudsen, and studies report that not only is the U.S. now the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world but also that learning a second language at an early age has positive effects on the average and struggling learner alike. A second language can support students who are challenged in reading and writing.

On the other hand, STEM-related fields are in high demand in the Puget Sound, Bang-Knudsen told the school board last week.

An intentional strand of specialized science like engineering could help address Next Generation Science requirements — statewide science standards for K-12 students — and it could foster early interest in STEM-related studies.

If approved, a Spanish subject area would be taught in two 25-minute blocks per week. A science program would be taught in one 50-minute block weekly.

Both opportunities come with pro and cons for integrating into existing instruction.

For Spanish specialists, reporting student progress can be done independently from the regular report card, while science specialists may need to coordinate with teachers.

Spanish instructors will also be able to teach in the students’ homeroom, so no extra teaching space would need to be identified.

A concern for many general education teachers though, Bang-Knudsen noted, is that the extra planning time would be unusable if they do not have a space to do it or access to their materials.

The district would likely need to identify an office space where both teachers can have access to a computer, files and a phone.

Similarly, a science specialist would need a dedicated space for labs and specialized equipment and instructional materials.

There would also need to be coordination between classroom teachers and science specialists in several different ways.

Since 50 minutes per week is not enough to cover all science content needed, the district would have to determine what content would be taught in the pull-out program versus the general classroom.

Depending on how it is divided, the teachers would need to coordinate the curriculum.

Student progress in the two areas would also be either synchronized or reported separately.

Developing the curriculum is a different realm.

The Bainbridge school district does not currently have elementary world language instructional materials, so those would need to be adopted and developed.

Continued Spanish learning would also need to be articulated and coordinated with grades 5-12.

“That would be something that would really require quite a bit of startup energy,” Bang-Knudsen said.

On the other side of the coin, current standards and curriculum materials are already developed to teach K-4 science. Additionally, BISD is in the middle of a science program review right now.

This makes it a good time to identify specific kits and units that could be taught by a science specialist.

Articulating it to fit within grades 5-12 science can also be done during the review.

Finding a Spanish specialist with certification to teach a K-12 world language could be more challenging than finding a science specialist, Bang-Knudsen said. There is current staff qualified to teach science and specialized science certification would not be necessary, he added.

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