By Andrew Kelleher
Lansing Star staff writer
Many parents from the Lansing School District spoke at the board of education meeting held Thursday, Feb. 17 to raise awareness about the overwhelming enrollment at Post Oak Elementary. The parents hoped to convince the board to dedicate a portion of the Sinking Funds levy, which passed November 2010, to expand Post Oak.
The Sinking Funds Levy was created to help offset budget cuts by the state. The levy created a $1.50 millage tax per $1,000 of assessed property value. Over the next five years, the city of Lansing hopes to generate $21 million to help pay for infrastructure improvements.
Lansing parents are motivated to see some of that money used to expand Post Oak Elementary.
Matt Gillard, former state representative for Alpena and a Lansing School District parent, said, “the building is literally overflowing at capacity levels.” Students are forced to eat in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria and the art and music rooms have been transformed for classroom space, says Gillard.
The reason so many students are being enrolled at Post Oak is the Chinese Immersion Program. The program is open to students in pre-school through third-grade for the 2010-11 school year and will expand one grade level each year.
When the program began at Post Oak in 2006, enrollment was 330 students. Every year, the student body has grown by about 35 to 40. Since 2006 there has been a 50% increase in enrollment to 495.
Rebecca Wolf, the third-grade teacher at Post Oak, said the goal of the program is, “for the kids to be fluent in Chinese by the time they graduate from high school.”
The program is funded by the Department of Education through a FLAP (Foreign Language Acquisition Program) grant. The grant was created to give money to public schools to help students learn “critical” foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Russian.
Students enrolled in the program spend half their day in English-speaking classrooms and the other half in classes focused on Chinese language and culture.
Han Han, the third-grade Chinese immersion teacher at Post Oak, said, “through me, through this classroom they know more about other cultures, other countries and how other people think.”
This is Han’s second year in America and as a Chinese immersion teacher. She is also a graduate student at Michigan State University and will be finishing the education program there this May.
By teaching another language, especially at such a young age, the Lansing School District is providing the students of Post Oak valuable tools for their futures. Post Oak Principal Camela Diaz said, “being dual language, regardless of what that second language is, gives kids a leg up as they move into the future.”
Lansing parent Craig Leinbach said, “with relations between China and America growing every day, I think this is going to position our students very well for careers and opportunities in the future.”
Parents in the district believe Post Oak is an important part of Lansing Schools, but the Chinese immersion program is growing at a faster rate than it can handle.
Many parents backed Peter Davidson when he pleaded, “we will pay for this.” The parents said they understand the importance of their children’s education and are more than willing to invest into their futures.
Leinbach, the last speaker on behalf of Post Oak, summed up the meeting by saying, “if you continue to build it we will stay.”