NAMPA — Nampa’s only dual-language school got a fresh start to the school year — and finally a permanent place to call home.
New Horizons — a two-way, bilingual magnet school — began its first day of classes Wednesday at a new school building built in south Nampa, along with other schools in the district. Students and staff have been shuffled between portable classrooms at Ronald Reagan Elementary and classrooms at Lakeridge Elementary since its introduction to the community four years ago.
This academic year marks a new beginning for the distinctive program.
“There’s a sense of identity now that we weren’t able to have before. We’re different, and by having our own building, it helps us with the idea that this is a different program we have in the district,” said parent and PTA secretary Kathy Chandler, who was picking up her third-grade son Parker after the first day of classes Wednesday afternoon. “I like that a unique program has its own building.”
The concept of New Horizons is different and is one that parents have embraced wholeheartedly — there are waiting lists for Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students.
New Horizons operates like a family that grows up together, welcoming a new kindergarten class each year. Now, about 400 students are enrolled up to the third grade. A fourth grade will be added next year. Only about 100 new kindergartners are chosen by lottery each year.
New Horizons staff hope to eventually grow the program into a dual-language school that serves up to 600 children.
Chandler’s son has been with the school since its inception. Year by year, he has progressed along with his original kindergarten class, mastering the bilingual curriculum. English-speakers and native Spanish-speakers learn side by side, with the goals of being bilingual and proficient in state standards by the time the program ends at the fifth grade.
Parents like the program so much, they want the district to continue bilingual education into middle school.
“It can only benefit the community, right? If you raise your kids and teach them to communicate with each other?” said Chandler, whose hope for the program is that it continues beyond the elementary grades.
Nampa School Board and district administration plan to research and develop a middle school transition plan for the students.
District officials chose Spanish as the complementary language based on its prevalence in Canyon County. Had Chinese been the predominant second language spoken in the community, New Horizons would have been modeled around that language, district spokeswoman Allison Westfall said.
“We did a lot of research before we started it,” Westfall said.
The Nampa School District started the program in 2007 to give native English speakers access to the same kinds of bilingual programs already offered to native Spanish speakers. District officials say research indicates that students involved in two-way bilingual programs score higher in reading tests than do their peers.