Spanish immersion program at school gets federal grant
Arizona Republic
Jul. 5, 2007

 Ofelia Madrid

CAVE CREEK - A Cave Creek elementary school has received a $465,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Desert Willow Elementary, 4322 E. Desert Willow Parkway, was the only school in Arizona this year to receive a federal Foreign Language Assistance Program grant.

School officials will use the money for its partial Spanish immersion program, where almost half of its 650 students are learning Spanish.

Here's how it works:

Students who are native English speakers are immersed in Spanish for half of their day. That means that students learn math and science in a foreign language.

The Cave Creek Unified School District program started in 2003 after Principal Jana Miller and a group of teachers asked the school board for permission to start the foreign language program with a group of first-graders.

Those students continue to score in high levels on the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards test, also known as AIMS.

Last year, the school was ranked "excelling," by the Arizona Department Education. It is the highest ranking the state offers.

"Dr. Miller was a visionary principal," said Cristina Marchica, a parent who was on the grant writing team.

The $465,000 will be distributed over three years. It will allow teachers to buy materials, send teachers to conferences and professional development and create better language assessments.

Marchica, a former teacher and educational consultant, will serve as the grant administrator, making sure the school stays in compliance with federal reporting guidelines.

Right now the program is available in preschool and first- through fifth grade.

Next year the grant will fund a kindergarten teacher.

The grant money will also help plan a future for the program when the students move on to middle and high school.

Marchica envisions the program will gain exemplary national status for teaching foreign languages to students.

Already, school officials from Mesa and Prescott have toured the school.

Scottsdale Unified's Pueblo Elementary School is using Desert Willow as its model when it opens a similar program in August.

Aside from teaching the language, the program also teaches students to value other cultures, Miller said.