"Si" and ”Shì.”

And a hearty "yes," too, from Casper parents, their children, teachers and Natrona County School District officials who are reviewing the district's Spanish and Mandarin Chinese dual language immersion programs with an eye to expanding them.

"It was an update with a plan to continue services on beyond elementary school," said Angela Hensley with the district's school improvement program.

The district is moving the  programs into the fourth grade, Hensley said after the board of trustees meeting Monday.

"We are studying the transition into middle school, and eventually we'll go into high school as well," she said.

Close to a hundred parents and children crowded the district's Central Services Building to hear reports about the language programs at Park Elementary and the Chinese program at Paradise Valley School. The programs are voluntary and not mandated.

The district remains aware of the Legislature's budget cuts to education, but the parents' and students' enthusiasm can affect funding and program decisions at the state and local levels, Hensley said. The programs are "budget neutral," meaning the programs do not cost extra on the part of teachers and staff at the schools.

During the meeting, students from the Spanish and Chinese classes showed parents and trustees what they've got.

Erendira Garcia, who teaches second and third grades at Park Elementary, brought a group of her students to the meeting and fielded questions, often in Spanish, from other students and parents.

Most were able to answer quickly with correct grammar. In response to a question about what the students like to do when they're not studying at home, one girl said she liked to "dormir" and "nada," or "sleep" and "nothing."

Likewise, Liping Ye asked questions of some of her 35 Mandarin students in her third grade class.

Later, Ye said she was from the Yunnan Province, studied in Maryland and recently taught in North Platte, Neb.

Learning a foreign language, especially at a young age, teaches not just a language as a second language but it becomes an automatic first language as well, she said.

The school district and the families have impressed her, Ye added. "I'm so grateful that we have so many supportive parents."

Frank Korfanta, a parent of a third-grade Spanish immersion student at Park Elementary, said his daughter will have more opportunities in the global marketplace than he has had.

Korfanta, 51, worked in the oil and gas industry until he was laid off last year, he said.

He's had a hard time finding work and he knows why, he said.

"When I've applied for jobs, there's been so many jobs that if I had a second language it would have opened some doors into a career opportunity," Korfanta said. "And I will never realize that now because I didn't have that certification, that ability."

The school board is giving students an advantage they won't realize until they graduate from college, he said. "If they continue on with this program and through high school and college, they're going to be heads and shoulders above the competitors, their American counterparts."

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