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Immersion Sprawl?

Parents of Chinese Immersion students hope for second location.

Meredith Asbury says Montgomery County could learn about foreign language education from Fairfax County in Virginia. Both of her children have had the opportunity to study in the Chinese Immersion Program in Potomac Elementary School.

Potomac Elementary’s was one of 11 foreign-language immersion programs in Montgomery County Public Schools, and the only one offered in Chinese. Fairfax, on the other hand, offers immersion programs in 30 different elementary and middle schools, with instruction in Spanish, French, German and Japanese.

“I’d like to see it like Fairfax, many more, and scattered throughout the county,” Asbury said. “Let’s make the pie bigger if there are people who want it.”

THE PIE MAY GROW bigger in Montgomery County. The Chinese Immersion Program, available only to Potomac Elementary students from its inception in 1996 through 2003, and opened to two students from outside Potomac Elementary’s boundaries in the 2003-04 school year, may be offered at a second county school in 2005.

“We’re hoping to find a school to pick up an immersion program,” said Mark Kelsch, community superintendent for the area encompassing Potomac Elementary. “The numbers indicated that there are enough kids out there.”

Kelsch said he hope that Potomac Elementary would continue to house one of the Chinese Immersion locations. No decision has been made about a proposed second location. Kelsch said he hopes to have any decision finalized by this fall, but any proposed locations would have to first be presented to MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast, also be approved by the School Board.

EXPANDING THE PROGRAM to another county school is a satisfactory alternative to Asbury and Diana Conway, another parent of Chinese Immersion students at Potomac Elementary. Many parents at Potomac were concerned about possible relocation of Chinese Immersion to a single site elsewhere in the county. Expanding the program at Potomac, which already has multiple trailers, was also an unpopular scenario.

“It’s a very popular program,” said Diana Conway, whose three children are all part of the Chinese Immersion program. “It can’t be just be in one location, in an old, crowded, stuffy building,”

In the upcoming academic year, students from outside the Potomac Elementary’s boundaries will enroll in Chinese Immersion at the school. The State Board upheld the Montgomery County Board of Education decision to proceed with a county-wide lottery for students interested in enrolling in the Chinese Immersion program at Potomac Elementary School.

A group of Potomac Elementary parents sought an injunction against the school system’s lottery, and appealed the county board’s decision to hold a countywide lottery to the State Board of Education, seeking an injunction to prevent the lottery from being held.

Last month, the lottery went on. Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge William J. Rowan III declined to halt the lottery, dismissing the injunction and deferring to the State Board of Education. On May 17, MCPS held a lottery among the 54 county-wide applicants for the 25 available seats in the kindergarten class of Potomac Elementary’s program.