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Topeka magnet offering bilingual program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The sounds of Spanish fill the classroom of a Topeka magnet that is on its way to becoming one of the only schools in the state to offer a full-time, comprehensive bilingual program.

"Kevin, ya acabaste todo?" said Maricela Cerenil to one of her preschool students, asking whether he was finished eating breakfast. In the room next door, the scene was similar but in another language.

That's the model at Scott Dual-Language Magnet Elementary School, where a mixture of native English- and Spanish-speaking students spend part of their day learning in one language, and the rest in the other, The Topeka Capital-Journal ( reported.

Though the Topeka district had piloted bilingual classes for four years, last year it decided to convert Scott into a fully dual-language school.

Plans call for non-bilingual classes to gradually disappear at the school, which has more than 550 children from preschool to fifth grade. The transition is expected to be completed by 2017.

"It's enrichment," said principal Sarah Lucero, a native Topekan who grew up speaking Spanish and English. "It's not taking away or threatening English."

The program is modeled after Horace Mann Dual-Language Magnet in the Wichita school district. School board member Patrick Woods said his desire to see a program like Horace Mann's in Topeka was part of his motivation for seeking office.

"We need to equip kids with the tools that allow them to compete," said Woods, whose son, Zen, now attends Scott, and whose wife, Anna, used to teach at Horace Mann. "We live in a world where competition is no longer local or regional. Everything is becoming more globalized."

The challenge, for now, is paying for bilingual materials and recruiting the right staff. A fully bilingual library alone could cost around $100,000, estimates Ethel Edwards, the school's librarian until she recently took up the post of union president.

This summer, the district received a nearly $880,000 federal grant to help pay for Spanish-language science materials, library books, a bilingual translator and other costs. The district chipped in nearly $60,000 more for supplies and other expenses.

On the recruitment front, Scott will add two bilingual teachers per year, says Carla Nolan, head of human resources for the Topeka district. The ultimate goal is for half of the school's teaching staff and support staff to be bilingual.

And in three more years, the district may need bilingual middle school teachers, too. That is when the first batch of bilingual students will finish fifth grade at Scott. The district is considering adding a dual-language program within one of its middle schools, and possibly, down the line, adding high-school classes, too.

Ultimately, Lucero hopes, the students might graduate from the Topeka district with a bilingual certificate -- ideally state-endorsed -- that would signal to colleges and employers that the students have a coveted skill.