Iredell-Statesville Schools took a risk years ago by adopting a dual-language program, which immerses elementary school students in English and Spanish learning, but it’s a risk that has paid off.

I-SS Executive Director of Elementary Education Jonathan Ribbeck told members of the school board earlier this week that the programs at East Iredell and Lake Norman elementary schools continue to be successful.

At East, the program was so successful that the school nearly ran out of classroom space. Before East implemented the DI program in 2009, the school had around 400 students. Once it was in place, enrollment climbed to 900 students.

Right now, enrollments stands at 714 students, Ribbeck said, explaining the recent dip was due to redistricting. Around 53 percent of students who attend East are in the DI program.

At Lake Norman, the school has increased enrollment from 493 to 613 students. Some 36 percent of students participate in the DI program.

The program has attracted students from other districts to I-SS, Ribbeck said.

“We have students who come from out of our county because they know the success of the program and the high praise that it receives and the great job that our teachers do with that,” Ribbeck said.

Claudia Jimenez, the district’s DI and ESL director, also shared some other successes of the program.

“This year because of the pandemic we don’t have a wait list, but each year we add numbers and parents are put on a wait list,” she explained.

Each year, students outperform and have met expectations in math and reading in every grade level on End of Grade tests.

For example, at East, during the 2018-19 school year, in fifth grade, 75 percent of DI student were on grade level for reading while 31.6 percent of non-DI students were on grade level. In Math, 85 percent of students were on grade level, while 40 percent of non-DI students were on grade level.

“Our teachers are outstanding. They offer opportunities and rigor and they add challenges to the students every day,” Jimenez explained.

The program prepares gives students the tools they need for the 21st century and will help them when they one day look for a job or when they go to college.

Serving a Diverse Student Population

The programs at East and Lake Norma have attracted a diverse array of students: The breakdown by race is as follows:

RACE East Elementary Lake Norman Elementary
White 30 percent 60 percent
Black 32 percent 5 percent
Hispanic 29 percent 25 percent
Asian 1.5 percent 4 percent
Other 6.8 percent 5.4 percent

The Cost of DI

I-SS pays for the Participate program, which helps recruit teachers from other countries, as well as helps with the training and DI support. The cost is around $88,500.

With six students from out of county, the combined tuition cost is $11,640. There are also 14 students from Mooresville Graded, who attend Lake Norman Elementary. The average daily membership or enrollment figure cost from the 20 students is around $123,886.

As a result, the district is able to return a profit of more than $47,000.

“What this doesn’t take into account is the number of students that we are keeping in our schools because of this program. I will guarantee you if East Elementary didn’t have dual immersion their enrollment would not be in the 700s,” Ribbeck said.

“We’re not only bringing in kids from other counties, but keeping students who would possibly leave us for other opportunities. We hear from parents all the time Dual Immersion is what they came for and what they are staying for,” he added.

Board Member Concerns

Board members responded to the presentation with concerns over test scores, the hiring of teachers and the separation of DI students from non-DI students.

New board member Doug Knight expressed concerns over test scores of non-Di students at East. He asked why there was a big discrepancy.

Jimenez said that students come from different socio-economic backgrounds that can impact test scores.

“I want to see all the students succeeding. Not just the dual immersion students,” Knight said.

Board member Ken Poindexter asked why is I-SS hiring teachers from Spanish-speaking countries to teach these programs rather than using local teachers.

“We try and hire local teachers but they don’t have the degrees or the Spanish skills to teach 100 percent during the whole day. We have tried to hire local teachers,” Jimenez said.

The district has hired three local teachers, Jimenez said.

About the DI Program

The DI program is implemented one grade at a time. In kindergarten, students speak and learn almost all Spanish instruction. When students enter first grade, they learn half of the time in Spanish and half the time in English. The elementary DI program ends in fifth grade.


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