All first-grade students in Ashland School District will begin learning Spanish in fall 2011, and will receive more second-language instruction each year through 12th grade, the School Board decided Monday.

All first-grade students in the Ashland School District will begin learning Spanish in fall 2011, and will receive more second-language instruction each year through 12th grade, the School Board decided Monday.

The board voted 3-2 to begin a European model of second-language instruction, where language teachers give approximately 30 minute lessons daily.

Each year, a grade will be added to the program, until all students are receiving second-language instruction each year.

The board has considered implementing a second-language program before, but has deferred the matter due to budget constraints. Board Vice-Chairwoman Heidi Parker, who proposed Monday's initiative, said she didn't want to put Spanish instruction on hold any longer.

"I think we just need to start offering second language with the intent that our high school graduates will come out having the skills to speak at least one other language," she said.

The board also voted to study the feasibility of implementing a Spanish immersion program and after-school language classes.

Board Chairman Keith Massie and board member Carol Davis voted against implementing the European model in 2011, because they said they aren't sure the district will have the money for the program.

"I really would like to see where our budget falls before we go any further down the path here," Davis said. "I'd hate for us to try and promise something that we can't deliver."

Eight community members spoke in favor of implementing a second-language program in Ashland schools, and none spoke against. Many of the speakers expressed support for an immersion program, where much of students' instruction is in second language.

"I love the idea of teaching history or teaching math in Spanish," said René Millán, an Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor and native Spanish speaker.

The district may be able to implement an immersion program by hiring bilingual elementary school teachers to fill openings, but administrators do not anticipate having any openings for the next academic year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

Administrators are also working with the principal of St. Mary's School in Medford to possibly bring a Mandarin language teacher to Ashland High School next academic year. St. Mary's, a private middle and high school, already offers Mandarin classes.

"That is revenue neutral because the Chinese government covers the vast majority of the costs for that," Di Chiro said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.