St. Louis charter school enforces bilingual education
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St. Louis charter school enforces bilingual education

Date: November 28, 2011
By: Stephanie Ebbs
State Capitol Bureau

Foreign language classes are required for many high school students, but two schools in Missouri teach language as soon as students start elementary school. Stephanie Ebbs takes an indepth look at one of the schools, located in St. Louis.
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Wrap: Most kindergarten students in Missouri are learning how to read and write in English.

But, the students taught by Jose Manuel Castro Chavez are learning to communicate with their teacher in Spanish.

Actuality:  SLKID2.WAV
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Description: *Spanish kindergarten class counting in Spanish.*

Chavez teaches at St. Louis Language Immersion School. The school surrounds students with as much foreign language as possible at a young age. The school currently teaches kindergarten through third grade.

Just as young children learn English by imitating their parents, these students learn a foreign language by imitating their teachers.

Rhonda Broussard is the school's founder. She says by first grade, these students will have more language skills than those in a high school foreign language class.

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Description: To see students go through this ripple effect of understanding what language means, then mastering that on an aural level and a written level is just absolutely amazing to me.

Students are taught in either Spanish or French.  Next year, the school plans to add Chinese.

According to Broussard, 90 percent of their students come from primarily English-speaking households in the St. Louis area.

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Description: That's one of the things that we wrote into our charter, looking at what St. Louis represents in terms of general census demographics, but in terms of what students are attending St. Louis public schools we see a stark difference. And we said, again thinking about this greater community, where do we want our children to grow up? How do we want our children to learn to interact with the world? Having a school that really does replicate the diversity of the world that we live in is going to be a helpful tool for them, a helpful social tool for them over time.

Broussard also says holding students to higher standards will improve their performance.

St. Louis Language Immersion School is a charter school and operates independently from the St. Louis public school district.

But like all charter schools, it officially is a public school.  So it cannot charge tuition and participates in the same standardized testing as other public schools. 

Some education officials, however, have doubts about charter schools.

Ann Jarrett is a spokeswoman for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association.

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Description: We are not opposed to charter schools, per say, it's just that Missouri has the worst oversight of charter schools.

She says issues include a lack of transparency regarding funding and poor quality because they are allowed to employ teachers that are not state certified.  

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Description: A third grader only gets one chance at third grade.

Despite concerns raised about charter schools, Missouri's Education Department reports charter school enrollment is growing.

Since St. Louis city's school district lost accreditation in 2007, supporters have promoted charter schools as an expensive private schools.

From Jefferson City, I'm Stephanie Ebbs.