Recap of SI District Meeting, Middle School and Vision of SI

From SIPAPA Co-President Sandra Tucher:

At the beginning of 2008, the Spanish Immersion program reached an important milestone. In January, representatives from the elementary and secondary schools and the PAUSD Administration began working together to create a unified K-12 program for Spanish Immersion.

This past Thursday (April 24, 2008), Dr. Marilyn Cook, Associate Superintendent of PAUSD, Dr. Becky Cohn-Vargas, Director of Elementary Education, Magdalena Fittoria of PAUSD, Chuck Merritt Paly Assistant Principal, Sandra Pearson, Jordan Principal, and Gary Prehn joined SIPAPA to present the early progress on the K-12 Vision.

The majority of the work to date has focused on the Middle School Program. It is in the Middle School that instruction for Spanish Immersion students shifts from an Immersion model to a Foreign Language (“FL”) model, which for many SI kids is demotivating and discouraging. Chuck Merritt, a former foreign language instructor at Paly and parent of a Spanish Immersion Senior at Paly, explained the difference between the two forms of instruction by saying that in Immersion, teachers focus on language competency whereas in FL, the focus is on accuracy. The two different approaches lead to significantly different educational experiences for the children.

SIPAPA set a goal two years ago to improve the language experience for SI students in secondary schools (Junior High and High School). After many parent volunteer hours and numerous meetings, SIPAPA is happy to report that PAUSD is addressing the transition between SI and FL. The District has put together a strong curriculum team to create the new 7th and 8th grade curriculum: Chuck Merritt (Asst. Principal of Paly); Kevin Duffy (Spanish Teacher at Paly – for the 2007 Paly Voice article on his receiving the Outstanding Language Teacher Award for Santa Clara County, see http://voice. php?id=5342); Catherine Enos of Jordan (for more info on her teaching see http://starr. html); and Magdalena Fittoria (former 4-5th grade teacher at Escondido and now at PAUSD). Catherine Enos, the Jordan SI teacher for 6th-8th grade, also will collaborate with the 6th -8th grade SI teachers from River Glen (http://www.sjusd. org/school/river_glen) whom we met on a recent visit.

The new PAUSD 7/8 curriculum for Jordan will use an immersion model (possibly based on curriculum developed for bi-lingual speakers in Puerto Rico), while also building a bridge to High School FL instruction. It is exciting to have both elementary and high school teachers working with the middle school teacher to create integrated curriculum. This is an important first step within the larger goal of building K-12 curriculum with year-over-year progress.

Because of larger class sizes in the secondary schools and a near tripling of the student body from Escondido to Jordan, today Spanish Immersion kids are a small minority at Jordan and Paly/Gunn. While SI kids get a special language elective at Jordan (and to bust a common myth, the majority of kids at Jordan uses one of their two electives to study a FL), at Paly/Gunn, most SI kids take the same FL courses that college-bound high school kids take to meet the two-year FL college requirement. SI kids typically enter at a higher level, which means that a SI freshman likely will study Spanish along side a Sophomore or Junior, but for the most part, there are no special course offerings to build upon their immersion skills.

An important point for families to understand is that currently the majority of SI kids in the Palo Alto School system will end up studying Spanish in a traditional FL model in High School. And even if families decide to switch to another language, it will be taught using a FL (accuracy and grammar) approach.

Another important point is that if families want to maintain language competency/fluency after elementary school, because Spanish instruction after sixth grade is only 4 hours/week, families need to create opportunities outside the classroom to use Spanish. SIPAPA is working to develop extracurricular Spanish activities for Middle and High School students and could use more volunteer help.

I hope some day Palo Alto will offer some of the core subjects in Spanish in grades 7-12, i.e., K-12 immersion. In the meantime, SIPAPA will continue its work to improve the course offerings in the secondary schools.

And to the families with children currently in 2nd grade and below, I encourage you to look ahead and take advantage of your larger numbers. Even better, increase the program to 60 students, which would create a truly viable program in the secondary schools!

Finally, these improvements underway and over the years have come about through parent volunteers. There is much that we can do together. Please consider volunteering to help. It is more rewarding than you think! The next SIPAPA meeting is Tuesday May 27th at 7pm at Escondido! (For regular SI updates, visit

Sandra Tucher
SIPAPA co-president

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