One school year after enrolling over 80 students from a closed D.C. school, a language immersion charter school has seen progress in students’ readiness for its rigorous bilingual program.
D.C. Bilingual Public Charter School added transitional classes in 2015-16 to accommodate students from Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School. The D.C. Public Charter School Board voted to close CAPCS in 2015 for mismanaging $13 million in public money. It reopened as a traditional public school, but the academy’s students had first priority in the lottery for Friendship Public Charter School and D.C. Bilingual, which moved into the closed school’s facilities.
The majority of the 80 former academy students have met benchmarks for Spanish and English by the end of the year, head of school Daniela Anello told Watchdog.org. “This particular year has proven that even if students start later … in Pre-K [age] 4 or even first grade, they can still have a year’s growth in both languages,” she said. “That speaks volumes to the work we’re doing.”
In regular classes, kindergarten to fifth grade students split the school day between classes taught in Spanish and English. The transitional classes for kindergarten and first grade are modeled after Pre-K, where Spanish and English-speaking instructors are present in the same room.
Like regular classes, half of the instruction is in Spanish, but they can use English to support their second-language learning. “Students who have not been in a bilingual program before can learn two languages in a safe space,” said Anello.
Entrance into these transitional classes is based on a beginning-of-the-year assessment on reading, writing, math and speaking skills. The school sets academic goals for each student based on these results. “We don’t necessarily know at which level students are performing prior to the start of the school year,” said Anello.
After weekly data tracking throughout the year, the school decides whether students should continue with transitional classes. Parent feedback factors in too, because some parents had requested their students remain in the classes.
D.C. Bilingual’s students usually enroll in Pre-K with limited Spanish-speaking skills. “Very rarely do we have students coming in already mastering both languages at a proficient level,” she said.
Now the school is asking the Public Charter School Board for an enrollment increase from 375 to 450 students to expand transitional classes to second grade. As the former CAPCS students advance through the grades, the school wants the transitional classes to follow them.
Based on the D.C. Council’s 2017 uniform per-student funding of $9,682, the school would receive $726,000 more at full capacity. Anello anticipates it could reach 450 students in 2019. The former CAPCS facility had given D.C. Bilingual capacity for 100 more students, most from the previous school. The PCSB will vote on raising the enrollment ceiling at its July 18 meeting.
Space for students is limited, especially in higher grades, because the school anticipates a 96 percent retention rate for next year. The school has a wait list of more than 1,200, Anello said.
The school can put a final number to transitional classes’ success when spring 2016 PARCC standardized testing results are released in the fall.