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By Alex Groves

The Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Nov. 14, heard a presentation about plans to transition RH Dana Elementary School into a Spanish language immersion school, where 50 percent of instruction would be in English and 50 percent would be in Spanish for students in kindergarten and first grade.

The presentation was conducted by RH Dana Principal Kristen Nelson, who described the intricacies of the 50-50 program and how it would work.

Turning RH Dana into a Spanish language immersion school is just the latest effort by the school to reinvent itself in the midst of declining enrollment.

According to a board report, RH Dana Elementary has seen enrollment plummet over much of the past decade, so it has been trying to reinvent itself as a way of attracting more students. Most recently the school was reimagined as a science and technology academy.

Currently, the Capistrano Unified School District has three Spanish immersion programs and one Mandarin Chinese program. The three Spanish immersion programs offer an 80/20 model in which students learn in Spanish 80 percent of the day and in English 20 percent of the day. RH Dana would be the first school with a 50-50 model, and there are a couple reasons for that, Nelson said.

One of them is because RH Dana Elementary shares a campus with the RH Dana Exceptional Needs Facility. Some of the ENF students are mainstreamed into regular elementary instruction classes. Nelson said school officials, therefore, thought it was better to have more English rather than less.

“Right now we do not have any students from ENF that need more than 20 percent in K or 1, but when we look historically, have there been students that came with IEPs that needed more than 20 percent? Yes. Could there be? Yes,” Nelson said. “So we felt it was safer at this point to start with a 50-50 model so we could be sure to be able to fulfill their IEP goals.”

Another reason was the school wanted to continue to capitalize on existing strengths, Nelson said.

“The staff that sits to my right comes with an exceptional amount of science training as well as excellent English teachers, and the feeling of being able to build on their strengths and being able to use them was also very important as we talked through things,” she said.

The estimated cost of staffing the school with one more person for Spanish enrichment and additional instructional materials is $288,000.

The presentation was informational in nature only and did not require action by the Board of Trustees, but they will be looking at the program as a formal item for approval during their meeting in December.

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