Residents seek money for French program


If West County residents can raise $44,000 to build a house for a family that can't afford one, Audrey Spolarich figures her neighbors can raise $20,000 so kindergarten students at Crofton Woods Elementary can enroll in the county's first language immersion program.

"I just have faith that it's going to work out," said Ms. Spolarich, whose daughter, Veronica, is signed up for the proposed program in which 30 kindergarten students would attend classes taught entirely in French. "I just feel that Crofton is a giving community."

Ms. Spolarich began collecting donations after the Board of Education voted down the $72,000 program two weeks ago, then revived it later at the same meeting with the condition that local residents raise $20,000 by July 31.

She hasn't collected any money yet, but several Crofton residents have pledged about $5,000, Ms. Spolarich said.

School Board member Michael A. Pace made the unusual motion to save the program July 13 after board members discussed how they liked it but couldn't find money in the school system's $417.1 million budget.

"It was a creative way to get a new and innovative program off the ground," Mr. Pace explained. "I believe we need to be a little innovative in our programs. The kids going to kindergarten this year will graduate in 2008. Basic skills will have to include a foreign language."

Schools in Montgomery and Prince George's counties have been offering language immersion programs for nearly two decades. Supporters say the program makes students bilingual and sharpens thinking skills when they learn basic skills in another language.

"The benefits go beyond the linguistics," said Dr. Marie-Cecile Louve, who started the country's first French immersion program in Montgomery County in 1974. "I have seen children say to me, 'Failure is not an option. I will find a way to solve the problem.' "

Under the Crofton Woods program, students would learn the county schools' standard curriculum in French and begin studying English in second grade, school officials said. The $72,000 would pay for a bilingual teacher and a teaching aide. French textbooks would be paid for through an allowance for instructional materials that is given to each teacher.

To keep the program going, the school system would have to spend about $40,000 each year to pay for another bilingual teacher until the class reached fifth grade, said Patricia Orndorff, the county school system's coordinator of foreign language. "It's a little bit unnerving it has to be this last minute, but we'll take it," she said.

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