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The Ever-Expanding School

Chinese immersion program may allow outside students into Potomac Elementary.

Students in Potomac Elementary’s Chinese Immersion Program may soon have to learn how to say, “We don’t all fit in here.”

The Board of Education has floated the idea of allowing students from outside Potomac Elementary’s boundaries to enter the school’s Chinese Immersion Program. The proposal would create a de facto magnet program at Potomac Elementary.

“It’s a ‘let’s explore this’ kind of action,” said Sharon Cox, board of education vice president.

The school board has asked the superintendent to study the idea of letting other children in. The superintendent is expected to present his findings to the school board in time for the board to consider the proposal’s inclusion in this year’s budget. If approved, students from outside the area could enter the program as early as next fall.

The class size would be limited to 25 students, and students from Potomac would have the first chance at available slots. “No child who is interested, in the Potomac area, would be precluded from entering the program,” Cox said.

After Potomac students have made their choice, the program would open up to other county students on a lottery basis.

Students from outside Potomac would have to provide their own transportation – no school buses – and would return to their home district if they leave the program.

The program itself would remain intact. “They are not really changing the structure,” said Iran Amin, coordinator of the county’s immersion programs. Students can enter the program in grades K-1. After that, most students would not be able to make up the lost time. The program, which started at Potomac has spread to Hoover Middle School because the first students to enter it have, just this year, entered middle school. Any out of area students who entered the program would be allowed to continue on with the program at Hoover, and likely to Churchill, if it expands that far.

Not everyone thinks expanding the program is a good idea. “We’re tremendously overcrowded,” said Sandy Bonner, President of the Potomac Elementary PTA. The school currently has over 600 students in a school built for 488.

Although acknowledging that the school is overcrowded, Cox asserts that all students should have access to the publicly funded program. All immersion programs at other schools are currently magnet programs – open to students from any district. Initially, the Potomac program had been partially funded by a federal grant. However, that grant ran out last year and now the county is paying the entire bill. “We’re not treating Potomac any different than any other school,” Cox said.

Another reason for the proposal is the perception that the program is underenrolled. According to Cox, there are either 17 or 18 students in the Kindergarten class able to have 25.

“The idea that the program is underenrolled is nonsense,” said Diana Conway, a parent who has children in the immersion program. “None of the immersion classes are too small.” Conway stressed that she does not speak for all parents with children in the program.

“A lot of parents have their children in private schools,” for kindergarten, Bonner said, because Potomac’s kindergarten program is not a full day program. Therefore, parents keep their children in private schools to keep them in an all-day program.

According to Amin, this year’s first grade class has 24 students.

“The idea that we’re dying on the vine, here, is wrong,” Conway said.

Cox believes the additional number of students would be small. With regard to next year’s class of 17 or 18 students. “You’re talking about seven kids for a class of 25,” Cox said. But Conway has a longer-term consideration. She points out that letting in seven students per year over a span of several years would have a more dramatic impact. “You’re talking about 35 or 40 kids,” Conway said.