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Eagle Point adds dual-language preschool

WHITE CITY — The Eagle Point School District is offering a dual-language preschool, believed to be the first in the Rogue Valley, as well as dual-language classrooms at an elementary school.

Results of tests given when children began kindergarten prompted the addition of the preschool, said Tiffanie Lambert, district director of school improvement.

“What we saw was that children in our area were performing below state averages when it comes time for education,” Lambert said.

The program, which will be taught in English and Spanish, will have a total of 30 students in two three-hour sessions in the former Boys and Girls Club building near White Mountain Middle School at 3275 Avenue G. There’s already a waiting list for the program, which was open to any preschooler in the district.

“A strong body of research suggests that not only do children in dual-language early learning programs make similar gains in language development to their English-only peers, they also experience greater levels of executive function development and problem-solving skills,” said Megan Irwin, early learning system director for Oregon’s Department of Education.

Rose Marie Montan, who taught kindergarten at Table Rock Elementary last year, will be the instructor. Jodie Salinas, assistant principal at Table Rock, is director of the preschool.

Also new are two dual-language kindergarten classes and one first grade class at Table Rock. Two bilingual teachers were hired, filling vacancies created by retirement or attrition. Plans call for developing dual-language instruction through the fifth grade at Table Rock, Salinas said.

“There is a natural flow into Table Rock (from the preschool),” said Salinas. “We are using the same model and the same program.”

It has been more than 10 years since the district offered preschool, said Lambert. Head Start does offer a preschool class at Hillside Elementary in Eagle Point, but it is not dual language. Dual-language preschools are also offered in Woodburn, Ontario and Roseburg.

There is no state funding for preschools, but the district will use federal funds to support most of the program. About $145,000 in federal money will cover compensation for the instructor and 2½ instructional assistants. Other expenses for curriculum, supplies and building utilities, estimated at $25,000, will come from the district’s general fund. There was a one-time, $10,000 expenditure for building preparation and cleanup.

Lambert said a program goal is to enroll 50 percent native English speakers and 50 percent native Spanish speaker in the classes. Instruction in the preschool classes will be 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English.

“These are models from other dual-language programs that have been successful,” Lambert said. That language percentage will continue through first-grade classes, but will move toward a 50/50 model in the higher grades as they are added.

“Spanish is very phonetically based, so kids can learn the sounds of the Spanish, then the English comes along naturally,” said Lambert.

Eagle Point resident Heather Marrs will send her 4-year-old son, Jordan, to the preschool. The five-day schedule will help Jordan get ready for full-day kindergarten next year, she said. He attended a three-day-per-week preschool last year.

“I feel languages are best learned when they are young,” said Marrs. “He’s like a little sponge. I just feel like he will soak it up.”

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gamil.com.