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Petaluma bilingual school popular

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Loma Vista Immersion Academy is growing faster than a first-grader’s feet.

Since opening in 2009 with a total of 55 students in two kindergarten and one first grade class, it has exploded to 399 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade classes.

The Sonoma County Office of Education doesn’t track comparative growth statistics, but the growth of the Old Adobe School District school is certainly among the highest in Sonoma County and may have the biggest growth percentage of any school, in the county, officials said.

Craig Conte, superintendent of the Old Adobe School District, said Loma Vista’s unique approach to teaching both English and Spanish has attracted students not only from Petaluma, but from surrounding communities.

“The idea of a dual immersion program isn’t unique, but it is still very novel,” said Loma Vista Principal Jorge Arvizu. “We get students from the Petaluma and Old Adobe School areas, but also from Novato, Point Reyes and other areas as well.”

This year, Loma Vista added a second transitional kindergarten and two kindergarten classes. It has also installed four new portable classrooms to keep up with the growth.

At Loma Vista, students begin school in the transitional kindergarten classes, where they are taught using only Spanish. In kindergarten and first grade, students are taught 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English. As children climb through the grades, they are taught more and more in English until, by the time they are in the fourth grade, they are taught half in English and half in Spanish.

Conte said that by the third grade, most students are proficient in reading and writing in both languages.

The superintendent noted that not only do Hispanic students become proficient in English, but they become more literate in their native language, learning not only how to speak more fluently, but also to read and write proper Spanish.

“The school board has been tremendously supportive,” Arvizu said. “They want children to be literate in Spanish as well as English, and they want them to think cognitively in any language.”

The program works both ways. There are a good number of English-speaking students, who quickly adapt to their new means of communication.

“By the third grade, they are speaking Spanish just like the native speakers,” Arvizu said. “They quickly make a powerful transition.”

But Loma Vista isn’t only about the dual immersion program, the principal pointed out. “We have a strong academics program as well,” he said. “We hold up well in the annual state tests.”

As the student population gets older — last year produced the school’s second graduating sixth-grade class — there has become a greater need for a school library. This year, working with a $15,000 Petaluma Educational Foundation Grant, Loma Vista has reorganized a thriving bilingual library.

While students learn in two languages, Loma Vista hasn’t let the changing world pass them by. Technology is a big part of the education. Each student has a Chrome Book and access to the latest in Apple technology.

“We want our students to have everything other students have in addition to the dual immersion education,” Arvizu explained.

Loma Vista’s school activities reflect its dual-culture emphasis with both a marimba band and a jazz band. Teachers have even formed their own marimba ensemble.

It is not only students and faculty who are benefiting from Loma Vista’s unique program. The Old Adobe District School has partnered with Sonoma State University in a program designed to help the development of elementary school dual-immersion teachers.

The program ties education coursework with field experiences. Five to 10 student teachers spend a year at Loma Vista working with the elementary school’s staff. Of eight dual immersion programs served by Sonoma State, Loma Vista is one of only two chosen to participate in the training program.

“It’ a way to build a dynamic dual immersion program and a real benefit to future employees,” said Arvizu.