Lizett Segura’s son was enrolled in kindergarten at a neighboring district when she walked into Mesa’s Keller Elementary School looking for employment about five years ago.
What she found was a job — and dual language program that prompted her to move her son just one month into the school year.
Today, both her children — now in fourth and second grade — are in Keller’s dual language program. Each week they learn half their academic studies in English and half their studies in Spanish.
“It made sense to me because I’ve always wanted my children to be bilingual,” Segura said.
Coming from Mexico, her son already had an understanding of Spanish. But through years of studies, he can now speak and read English and Spanish.
“It’s just great. Both of them are 100 percent fluent in both languages. They can read above level in both languages,” she added.
Keller principal Monica Torres said that’s true of many of the students who choose the dual language option at the school.
“Our scores are consistent with research that our (dual language) students outscore the students in other classrooms,” she said.
Parents looking for options in education oftentimes don’t need to look further than their neighborhood district. As National School Choice Week is celebrated in Arizona and around the country, districts are highlighting the ever-growing list of options available in their public schools.
There are a growing number of charter schools coming to the East Valley. But overwhelmingly, Arizona families continue to choose district campuses. In the most recent data available on the Arizona Department of Education website — for the 2011-2012 school year — of the 1,083,348 children enrolled in public schools, about 87 percent were in district schools.
But that only tells part of the story.
The Mesa Unified School District, for example, touts a number of options — with more in the works. There are 62,000 students enrolled in the district this year. About 20 percent of those students live in the district, but chose to attend a Mesa school other than their neighborhood campus. And 2,700 students live outside the district, but attend a Mesa school through open enrollment.
Torres, principal at Keller, said a number of families drive their children to the campus because they want the dual language option. Enrollment for kindergarten, which is now under way, is on a first-come, first-served basis. About 75 percent of the families that have registered for next school year have requested the dual language option.
Mesa also offers an elementary education with a focus on the arts at Highland Elementary School. The district’s back-to-basics Franklin Schools consistently have a waiting list.
Even the high schools offer programs directed at different types of learning. Westwood High School, as well as the Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies and Summit Academy, offers the International Baccalaureate program. Skyline and Red Mountain High School started a small cohort of students on a program to earn the Grand Canyon Diploma. Created by the state, it uses the rigorous Cambridge Curriculum and allows students to master their high school studies in two years, then spend the next two years in college-level classes or career training.
Many district programs are now accepting applications for next school year.
“One of the things we’re trying to help people understand about choice is its not districts vs. charters,” Mesa district spokeswoman Helen Hollands said. “The districts offer some of the most interesting choices available.”
While some people want “the school closest to their home,” others may seek out the district’s Montessori programs, classes for home-schooled students and college-prep options.
“People don’t realize the amount of choice we offer. By default, people think of us as the local school you go to. We’re not the default,” she said.
Surrounding school districts also offer options. Higley Unified School District in Gilbert will launch a traditional academy next year. In the past few years, Chandler Unified School District has created a gifted academy, as well as a school where students can receive either a traditional education or a back-to-basics education.
Gilbert’s Neely Traditional Academy starts registration nearly a year before classes begin because of the popularity of the program. The district also wants to expand Gilbert Classical Academy, an option for seventh-through-12th graders who want a more rigorous education. Gilbert Superintendent Dave Allison announced plans to launch a Project Lead the Way program at Mesquite High School next year. The STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math) will emphasize engineering with Orbital Sciences, located next to the school, as a partner.
Tempe Elementary School District is accepting sixth-grade applications for the Tempe Academy of International Studies, which will offer the International Baccalaureate program on the McKemy Middle School campus next year. That school closed at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.
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