The Old Adobe Union School District Board is planning to reopen Bernard Eldredge School and make it unique among all schools in the Petaluma area.

Next year, Bernard Eldredge, closed since 2010, will reopen as home for the district's burgeoning dual immersion language program.

Half the students in each class in the program are native English speakers; the other half are native Spanish speakers. The goal is for the kids to become fluent in each others' languages and gain an understanding of the others' cultures while studying standard academic subjects such as math, science and history.

The program began as a single kindergarten class and has expanded one class at a time each year. This year, there are two classes for kindergarten through fourth grade being taught at Miwok Valley. Next year, another kindergarten class will be added, and this year's fourth graders will continue in the program as fifth graders, bringing the number of participating students to an estimated 180.

Old Adobe Superintendent Cindy Pilar said it became apparent that something had to be done when the district had to stop recruiting for kindergartners because there was no longer class space available.

"Next year, Miwok Valley will be completely out of space," she observed. "We considered bringing in portables, but they are expensive and there are other problems with them.

"The more we looked into it, the more it looked like reopening Bernard Eldredge was the answer. It is a win-win."

She pointed out that with money from a bond measure passed by voters last June, the district has enough funds to renovate the former K-sixth-grade school. And, since there are no students at the school this year, work can start immediately. "We've already started meeting with architects," Pilar said.

Initially, the program will operate at Bernard Eldredge under the Miwok Valley School charter, but Old Adobe Board Member Marlene Abel said the plan is for the school to ultimately stand alone under its own charter. She added it will probably be renamed to reflect the unique nature of its curriculum.

The students and many of the teachers will move onto the new campus from Miwok Valley, but a new principal and support staff will be hired to administer the new school. Abel said it is also possible some new teachers will be hired.

Pilar said she hopes to hire a new principal by January to give him or her plenty of time to prepare for the opening of the new school.

The superintendent said that eventually the program might expand to include seventh and eighth graders.

Abel said the change allows the district to continue to expand a program that is very popular with parents.

"Parents are seeing the benefits of having their children grow up fluent in both languages," she said. "It is the same with English-speaking parents who see the benefits of having their children speak fluent Spanish and Spanish-speaking parents who understand the need for their children to be fluent in English."

Pilar agreed, adding "There is no better time to learn a second language than childhood, and the younger the better."