Dear Extra Credit:

Our neighborhood school a few blocks away, Rock Creek Forest Elementary in Chevy Chase, has a Spanish immersion program in which students can participate only through a countywide lottery.

We wanted to send our daughter, Ariel, but were unsuccessful at winning a place. At the same time, we applied through a lottery to another Spanish immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary in Takoma Park, and we did get a place there. The children who live in that neighborhood and wish to attend the Spanish program can do so without a lottery.

My husband and I contend that our daughter does not have equal access to an educational program at her home school. Admission to the programs isn't equitable.

There are other discrepancies as well. The Spanish immersion programs are designed for nonnative speakers. However, we know children who are bilingual and attend the program. Furthermore, the Rock Creek Forest program continues as a full immersion program, but Rolling Terrace becomes a partial immersion program after kindergarten.

I would appreciate your perspective on this inequity in the immersion program. While I know more about the Spanish program, there may be similar discrepancies in the French and Chinese programs. It seems to me that a review of the Montgomery County language immersion programs would make sense in light of the differences among them.

Susan Levin

Chevy Chase

Rolling Terrace Elementary

School parent

My perspective can be summed up in one word: Wow! It is amazing to me that you can find even one language immersion program in a public school system, much less three. But we Montgomery County residents are accustomed to the best without always appreciating how well off we are, so let's tote up our immersion program riches and address your concerns.

Total immersion programs teach all subjects, except English, in a foreign language. Partial immersion programs teach some subjects, often math and science, in a foreign language and other subjects, often reading, writing and social studies, in English. Immersion programs at some schools are open to all county students and at others are open just to students in the neighborhoods.

The countywide programs include those at College Gardens Elementary in Rockville (Chinese); Maryvale Elementary in Rockville and Sligo Creek Elementary in Silver Spring (French); and Rock Creek Forest Elementary (Spanish). Students from the upcounty area are given priority at Maryvale Elementary while students from the downcounty area are given priority at Sligo Creek Elementary.

Programs in which neighborhood students have first priority include the Spanish immersion program at Burnt Mills Elementary in Silver Spring; the Chinese immersion program at Potomac Elementary; and the Spanish immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary. The Potomac and Rolling Terrace programs are open to students outside the neighborhood if there is room, which is how your child got into Rolling Terrace.

The total immersion programs are at Maryvale, Rock Creek Forest and Sligo Creek. English is introduced in the second grade at Rock Creek Forest and in the fourth grade at Maryvale and Sligo Creek schools. The partial immersion programs are at Burnt Mills, College Gardens, Potomac and Rolling Terrace.

Montgomery County school system spokesman Brian Edwards said the immersion programs have no admission criteria for kindergarten or first grade, but if requests exceed capacity, a lottery is used to decide who gets in. Students in grades 2 through 5 are admitted to available seats if they do well enough on an exam in the foreign language.

Parents should contact the immersion schools that interest them for dates when they hold open houses. They can apply for admission between Feb. 1 and April 1 through the change-of-school assignment process. The form for a transfer/change of school assignment is available at any public school or online at

I share your view that the mix of total and partial immersion programs is confusing, but the programs grew without a master plan, and different schools had different needs and desires. If the same rules were imposed on all now, it might help you but hurt the families already in those programs. Edwards said the programs are designed for students whose native language is English but are open to all students, including those who speak the foreign language at home. The best person to call about individual programs is Judith Klimpl, program supervisor for foreign languages, at 301-279-3911.

Edwards said the school system's foreign language office, at the school board's request, is developing "an action plan and timeline to address consistency and alignment" of all county language programs. The research on immersion programs is encouraging, and most of the parents I know who have tried them like them.