Commission backs Spanish program

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Michael Loomis doesn't remember much of the German he studied toward the end of his high school career, but the Spanish he picked up while he was young sticks with him to this day.

Loomis, a Steamboat Springs School Board and Education Fund Board member, was one of numerous people who spoke Wednesday night in support of an elementary Spanish program funded, in part, by the city's half-cent sales tax for education.

The Fund Board, which allocates revenue from that tax to Steamboat's public schools, heard a request from its Educational Excellence Commission to continue funding part of the program for the 2004-05 school year.

The commission's request for the program totals $10,000, which is twice what the Fund Board provided for it last year. Members of the Educational Excellence Commission said providing the extra money would allow the Parent Information Committees at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools to use some of their funds for other programs they funded in past years.

"This (funding request) will allow the PICs to gain back some of their traditional flexibility with funds," Content Standards Director Kelly Stanford told Fund Board members Wednesday.

The Spanish program was introduced to both schools last year as part of a desire from parents that their children be introduced to a second language early in their educations, when language development is best acquired. Both PICs contribute thousands of dollars to help pay the salary of teacher Ann Coon, who was hired last year to teach introductory Spanish twice a week to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

The district's administrative team supports the program and says sixth-graders who were part of the program last year demonstrated impressive language skills when they entered the middle school's foreign language program this year.

The program has its problems, such as scheduling conflicts that have resulted in combining and splitting elementary classes for the 20-minute blocks of Spanish lessons.

Still, Strawberry Park fifth-grade teacher Mike Johnson said he'd rather have those scheduling issues than no Spanish program at all. But teachers would like to see better student-to-teacher ratios in the Spanish program, Johnson said. Coon works with classes ranging in size from 30 to 50 students.

The request was part of $750,000 in funding recommendations from Educational Excellence Commission. Other recommendations included $328,000 for content standards staff and teacher training, $399,000 to maintain small class sizes and $12,500 for a curriculum audit for the district. The Fund Board will allocate about $1.9 million in revenue at its March 24 meeting. Fund Board commissions must win line-item approval before a request is granted.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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