Eau Claire school district Administration Building

Eau Claire school district Administration Building, 500 Main St.

Immediately upon hearing about a proposed Spanish dual immersion program, Rachel Hart-Brinson supported it — she’d always dreamed of raising her children to be bilingual.

But more than that, Hart-Brinson wants that same immersive opportunity to be offered to native Spanish speakers in Eau Claire.

“I don’t just want this for my kids — I also want this benefit for kids whose first language is Spanish,” Hart-Brinson told the Eau Claire school board through tears Monday night. “While I know schools do what they can and many Spanish-speaking children succeed academically, I have seen firsthand how hard it is for kids who come into our schools speaking little or no English.”

And now, the Spanish dual immersion program will become a reality, after the school board voted 6-1 on Monday to approve funding for the program’s launch next academic year.

Board member Chris Hambuch-Boyle voted against the program. She said she supports the program, but doesn’t see it as feasible amid the district’s current budget situation.

“We are very much in a revenue problem, not a spending problem. We are working at a deficit,” Hambuch-Boyle said, noting more state school funding advocacy must be done in the future. “If I thought we had the money to do this, I would have no hesitation.”

The program, based at Longfellow Elementary, will begin with a kindergarten class in the fall, then gradually expand each year by one grade level until the program serves kindergartners through fifth-graders. Classrooms will be comprised of half-and-half or a ratio of 60-40 native Spanish speakers and native English speakers.

In this sense, Briana Smit, English learner coordinator with the district, said this program serves as a way the district can support historically underserved students, while also adding an additional opportunity for all.

Smit also emphasized the positive impacts that research shows bilingualism has on children’s development — not only in terms of the Spanish and English languages themselves, but also math, science and social studies skills.

But the program also has a cost — the program’s first year could cost from $46,608 to $88,008, depending on interest and transportation costs, according to meeting materials provided by the dual immersion committee.

The biggest chunk of that is transportation, said Dave Oldenberg, district director of academic services. Adding a bus route for the first year of the program could cost up to $36,808 in the first year, according to meeting materials.

But that expense likely wouldn’t occur again until another few years down the road, when enough students are in the program to merit another bus route, Oldenberg said.

Smit added that the benefits of the program are undeniable, in terms of learning the language and teaching kids to embrace multiculturalism.

“Equitable practices are not always cheap,” Smit said.

Board President Joe Luginbill said although the board is juggling several other difficult decisions in the midst of continued financial troubles for the district, he sees the Spanish dual immersion program as a worthy investment.

“To me, this is a reasonable investment in our district’s future,” Luginbill said. “This serves a group of people that we consistently have said, for years, that we want to serve better. This serves that population.”

Contact: 715-833-9206, samantha.west@ecpc.com, @SamanthaWest196 on Twitter