Education Department Lauds Norman Public Schools’ French Immersion Program

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is commending a Norman Public Schools’ plan to offer a partial immersion French program within its new Ronald Reagan Elementary when it opens next fall.

“Competing on the global stage is a must for our students,” Barresi said. “To hear that Norman is developing a program that will take students in that direction is wonderful news.”

Desa Dawson, director of World Language Education at the state Department of Education, said, “We live in a different world today. Students need to be globally competent, and one of the very best ways to accomplish that goal is to establish an immersion program.”

Dawson said numerous reports have proven that students who have studied a foreign language perform much better than their monolingual peers on many standardized tests, including all sections of the SAT.

The 2007 College Bound Seniors report, issued by the College Board, which administers the SAT, shows that students with four or more years of foreign language study score on average 140 points higher (out of 800) than students with half a year or less experience on the Critical Reading section, and almost another 140 in the Math section and over 150 points higher on Writing.

Dawson, who was featured in the August edition of “The Language Educator” published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, went with a delegation from the Oklahoma State Department of Education to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the Acadamie d’Amiens in the Picardy Region of France in 2007.

In June, Barresi held a video conference with Amiens officials to renew the exchange partnership for another three years. One of the things that came from that partnership was the idea to develop a French immersion school in the Oklahoma metro area.

Joe Siano, superintendent of Norman Public Schools, said he attended a meeting at the University of Oklahoma’s K20 Center, an education research and development center that collaborates with school districts throughout the state, in which the immersion program was discussed.

Siano said his district decided to develop an initiative to create a school-within-a-school concept in their new elementary school, using a model of a partial French language immersion program. Siano said French was selected as the language because of the existing relationship with OU and its teacher training program in France. The district also made use of resources from the state Department of Education and their relationship in France, he said.

“This is really not about the language itself,” Siano said. “I want to emphasize the importance of teaching world languages at the youngest age. If this model works well, we can duplicate it in a variety of languages at other schools.”

Dawson said the goal is to get other schools in Oklahoma interested in immersion programs. There already are seven immersion programs in public schools in the state.

Norman’s will be a partial immersion program. 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.

Janet Gorton, coordinator for world languages for Norman Public Schools, said immersion programs not only help children develop global competency, which is very important in 21st Century learning, but students who develop language capacity also gain stronger problem solving and creative thinking skills and it improves their listening skills. It pushes them to higher learning over time, she said.

Plus, teaching children foreign languages at an early age helps them learn to speak like a native and develops their language proficiency, she said.

Lawmakers in other states tout the economic development benefits of the programs. Utah has even legislated immersion programs and is the first state to have a written immersion curriculum, Gorton said.

Oklahoma’s current immersion programs in public schools:

  • Eisenhower International School in Tulsa, Spanish and French
  • Henry Zarrow International School in Tulsa, Spanish
  • Jenks East Elementary School in Jenks, Spanish
  • Jenks Southeast Elementary School in Jenks, Mandarin
  • Thoreau Demonstration Academy in Tulsa, French
  • Cherokee Nation’s tsa la gi tsu na de lo qua s di charter school in Tahlequah, Cherokee
Last updated on December 13, 2011