Some teachers wary of plan for Spanish language immersion

By on April 19, 2018

With strong support from Dare County Schools administrators and parents, it is likely a Spanish language immersion program will go into effect next year.

But some teachers are concerned about the way the program has been communicated to them, how it will affect staffs and what it will mean to them professionally. Questions have also been raised about class selection.

If immersion goes forward in Dare County, it will be structured like other successful programs, which use instructors from the country or countries that speak the language — in this case Latin America.


Dare County Schools will be working with Participate, a Chapel Hill-based company with 30 years of experience bringing educators from foreign countries to the United States.

Second of two parts

The company has moved increasingly toward working with immersion language schools, according to Kevin Smith, senior director of Global Schools at Participate.

“For the last 11 or 12 years, we have been helping implement successful dual-language programs in schools,” Smith said.

Keith Parker, digital communications director for Dare County Schools, was the principal of Martin Millennium Academy in Edgecombe County when an immersion program was instituted. His experience with Participate indicates the organization recruits teachers with strong backgrounds.

“Many of the teachers have master’s degrees with at least five years of experience,” Parker said. “Most have early childhood teaching experience and also many of them have taught English in their home country.”


Plans call for one immersion classroom in kindergarten and first grade at Hatteras, Kitty Hawk and Nags Head elementary schools. Manteo, with the largest student population, will have two in each grade.

Because parent participation was not high enough, First Flight Elementary will not be included this year.

The program will continue through fifth grade, according to Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly.


“We guarantee that these inaugural kindergarten and first-grade cohorts will progress through fifth grade and be given language opportunities in middle and high school,” Farrelly said.

Because not every class will be an immersion room, parents are being asked to opt into the program. But there are more requests to participate than there are classrooms, and a lottery selection will be used.

“The choice of using a lottery to select student enrollment is the most equitable method available to us,” Farrelly said.

“The parent interest in the program has been incredible,” he said. “In fact, within five minutes after the electronic registration form went live on the website, we had over 70 parents register their child for the program.”

“Parents in Dare County want their children to have the opportunity to experience this program,” Farrelly added.

Some parents see the program as an opportunity to help their children navigate the world more effectively and to communicate with more people.

Kayla Wynegar is hoping her daughter, Makiylah, will be in a kindergarten immersion class next year.

“A lot of kids she knows are speaking Spanish. It will help her talk to them,” Wynegar said. “I think it’s important, especially in this world today with all the cultures and mixed races.”

Farrelly also points to an enthusiastic response from school principals as critical to moving the program forward.

“We wouldn’t implement any programs in Dare County Schools without the support of the school-based administrators,” Farrelly said.

But some elementary school teachers who will be affected by the immersion program do not agree, and are afraid that if they publicly express their opposition there may be consequences.

Two educators acknowledged they see benefits from the program, including encouragement of “brain development.”

Teachers are also worried though about how the program will affect them professionally.

If there are three first grade classrooms at Kitty Hawk Elementary, and one becomes an immersion room next school year, that will shift a current teacher out.

But school administrators have countered on numerous occasions that the program will not lead to any layoffs.

“There will not be any teachers who will lose their job because of the immersion classes,” Parker said.

But to primary school educators it’s not just job security.

“I put my heart and soul into my class and my kids,” one of the teachers said.

“We’re displacing the teachers who are already here,” added another.

Students whose parents are more involved in what is happening in the classroom are generally higher performing, especially among those who believe that a dual language program will have long-term benefits.

There is unease that parents who are more involved are more likely to enroll their children.

“Some teachers are concerned that classes might be stacked with more informed parents choosing immersion classes,” a teacher said.

Farrelly did address that in discussing the lottery system and why he felt it was the best way forward.

“The lottery will ensure that a parent who applies on the last day of registration has the same chance of being selected as a parent who enrolled on the first day,” he said.

Every teacher interviewed felt that one February meeting to discuss the program with schools staffs was inadequate.

The feeling among the teachers was that there were significant questions that were unanswered, and when asked if the unease of the teachers about the program still existed, the response was, “Yes we do, unfortunately.”

A larger issue within the schools may be how teachers are reacting.

“Morale is low,” one of the teachers said, and then discussed the sense of teamwork and working toward a common goal that normally exists within a school.

“If you take it away as though it doesn’t matter, then maybe it never was important,” the teacher said.


  • EAK

    In a 90% immersion class, how is math taught? Do the children learn basic math using Spanish numbers and instructions? Are math problems given in homework written in Spanish? How will English speaking parents help children with homework? Are there Spanish children’s books about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Has the School Board addressed questions such as these from elementary school teachers? How can initiating a program like this be decided without significant teacher input? How much taxpayer money will be needed to implement this program, hire new teachers and address needs for additional classrooms?

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 10:23 am
  • Really?

    The new superintendent should be proud that his first major accomplishment has been to lower teachers morale. If he won’t address the teachers concerns before implementing this program then it must be an agenda behind this in my opinion. That’s why school board party affiliation is important because it looks like some liberal members made sure to hire a liberal superintendent. Just my thoughts you have yours.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 10:34 am
  • Wendy

    I thought the idea was when childern enter school that they have learned English which is the language of this country. If we bring in teachers from other countries we aren’t helping these childern learn our language and history. I went to Colombia South America and everything was in Spanish, their language. There weren’t English signs next to the Spanish. They expected that we are in their country so learn the language. There are people who have been in this country for many years that still can’t speck English. We have made it too easy for them to continue without knowing English. Is English our language? You wouldn’t know it if you went to certain areas of Florida and other states. We have teachers that know Spanish that can teach them English without importing teachers.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 11:21 am
  • Seal

    Somebody had better stop this Liberal train in its tracks !

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 11:44 am

    This is being presented as an advantage to English speaking children, which it probably is. I’m not arguing that there may be advantages to this program. But it’s mentioned that Manteo will have 2 of these classes in each grade. My guess is that Manteo has higher Hispanic enrollment. So is this really for the benefit of the English speaking children, or just making it easier for Spanish speaking children?

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 1:35 pm
  • OBX Resident

    Is it about what is best for the students or what is best for the teachers?

    By not improving and recognizing the change that is needed such as this immersion program, the schools would continue down the same path. This path is not what is best for the students.

    The communication, transparency and leadership coming out of the head office is much appreciated from that of the past school superintendent.

    And going back to Danko, he prides himself as an international journalist. Maybe one day, one of the children in the immersion program will grow up to be a translator for an ‘international’ journalist such as Danko suggest he was.

    Danko also wants all to know he is a catholic. As a journalist lest he forget the prejudices and stereotypes that plagued catholic immigrants to America. Also, where does it teach one in Catholicism to treat immigrants as Danko suggest? His church should be ashamed of him.

    KO DanKO at the polls and make the Outer Banks a better place. Keep up the good work Farrelly.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 1:54 pm
  • dan

    So now republicans care about education. It’s interesting when they choose to care about it. Do they care about the kind of education that teaches kids that the world isn’t 7,000 years old and that 99.9% of scientists agree that global warming is real and accelerated by humans? Did they care when Governor McCrory (R) eliminated the limit on class room size and teachers were faced with 60 kids in a class? McCrory and the republicans also did away with health care benefits for teachers once they retire. Funny how the people commenting on here weren’t upset about any of this, yet somehow they think this immersion program, which is proven to be good for kids, is a problem.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 4:21 pm
  • KDH

    I would like to see Spanish offered to all students as a “special” in Elem. Schools and as an “exploratory class” in our middle schools. This would help to prepare the students for high school Spanish classes if the students elect to take high school Spanish. Why limit the language knowledge to a few students? In the past, we had Spanish classes. These classes were removed from the Elem and Middle Schools b/c there was not funding for it to continue not because of lack of interest. If the funding is now available to put a Spanish speaking teacher in each school, let them teach all the students.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 4:56 pm
  • Shoal Ducker

    All this is about is bringing MES’s scores up. I am sure the Hispanic enrollment is high, it’s a home run for them. This superintendent is only concerned about his testing scores not the children of the community.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 5:32 pm
  • Ed Danko

    @OBX Resident – First, these “immigrants” are NOT immigrants, they are “illegal Aliens.” They entered American “illegally.” My Grandparents were immigrants, legal immigrants who came to America legally and learned English as fast as they could. Make no mistake, once I’m elected I will work to remove this liberal Farrelly as school superintendent as fast as I can.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 5:33 pm
  • surf123

    It’s the standard operating procedure of “new” superintendent is to come in an make waves so that feel important and to show there worth. Should have promoted someone from within, instead we will be in arms race where they only winners are the superintendents that jump counties/cities for more money. I have no problem with immersion, but why are the children being taught Spanish? Is this so they can direct construction crews? It looks we are capitulating to the immigrants from south of the border. They make very little effort to learn English so we will further accommodate them so they don’t have to learn it.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 5:46 pm
  • Kitty hawker

    I find it very ironic that Dare County did not have in it’s budget to continue Spanish class for children and now we have the money to teach only a select few.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 5:49 pm
  • Kitty hawker

    For a little more info on that – KHES offered Spanish class for all students until it was cut in 2013 due to budget.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 5:51 pm
  • Harold

    We are almost the only developed country in the world where the population is not at least bi- and often multi-lingual. Did you ever watch the Olympics and wonder how a German athlete can speak such fluid English? They are EDUCATED. That is what this program is about…, not anything else. It is about catching our children up to those of the rest of the civilized world.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 6:16 pm
  • stephen

    What about immersion in English grammar, spelling, sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, parts of speech ,cursive writing and diction….? Even the English speaking students are not learning this in school.
    The school system is not instructing its students in the most elementary
    aspects of English , now it is going to immerse the students in Spanish.
    We live in a multi-cultural society and having a working knowledge of the language of a very large segment of that society is beneficial, but shouldn’t that cut both ways.
    Th cart is being put before the horse.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 6:21 pm
  • KDH

    Why not teach Spanish to all students in Elem and Middle School? The class could be an Exploratory class in middle school and a Special Class in Elem. School. We had Spanish classes in Elem and Middle School at one time but they were abandoned b/c of lack of funding. If we have the money again, let everyone learn Spanish. Another idea would be to use the funds for an English immersion class at each school. An English immersion class would help the ELL student learn English faster and take some of the responsibility off of the classroom teachers.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 6:33 pm
  • Jackson

    What a pointless idea. How about we teach kids things about things that really make a difference rather than language skills that should be the other way around. Makes me sick to think I’m spending tax dollars to import foreign teachers.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 7:06 pm
  • Jason

    What an embarrassment and waste of money to hire a company to bring in foreign teachers! I don’t believe for a minute our teachers here won’t be affected! Dare County won’t have any new job openings for American teachers for years

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 7:59 pm
  • Jason

    This money would be much better spent on programs to educate disadvantaged minorities here rather than this

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 8:03 pm
  • Kitty hawker

    How is Dare County finding funds to teach a select few Spanish? Spanish for all children in elementary school was cut a few years ago because of budget shortages.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 8:21 pm
  • CorollaCap

    You are all sooo stuuupid. It’s learning a new language. Why is that bad? It’s not. And you all know it. Stop adding in all the extra bs. I wish I had this 30 years ago.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 8:25 pm
  • CorollaCap

    Harold gets it. Someone with a brain in their head. Thanks man.

    Thursday, Apr 19 @ 9:35 pm
  • Fishy politics

    I smell a rat! Where did all this money come from suddenly for this purpose? Is it from a grant to help non English speaking students succeed by offering these mixed immersion classes? Dare County Schools does not even have a reading specialist yet in our entire school district for students who fail to read at grade level .., despite all the evidence showing the importance of specialized instruction and remediation while young. They just send them on to be someone else’s problem.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 2:15 am
  • Bud

    Our children should learn proper English before another language. They speak ‘text’ style and say most things like it’s a question and lacking the understanding of sentence format.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 7:23 am
  • Really?

    @CorallaCrap why don’t you go ask your mexican buddies the same question? “it’s learning a new language.” “Why is that bad?” Speak English in this country and then speak Spanish and see which one helps you obtain the ‘American dream’??? And I would like to know where’s the money coming from? We can’t give the teachers we have more money but we can import teachers from someplace else?

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 8:23 am
  • dave

    The reason that many Europeans speak other languages is that the other countries are just a train ride away; similar to going from state to state here. English is the language of the world. Why don’t you see droves of Americans flocking to China for higher education while they come here…….speaking English?

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 9:25 am
  • Runnerguy45

    I’d like to thank the Voice for reporting this issue. No matter where you stand on the issue the public needs to be informed. Without the press our society is a more dangerous place. We should all debate the issues of our nation !!

    The new superintendent should be careful with teacher morale, this isn’t Rocky Mount, it’s the beach and we have our own way !

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 10:34 am
  • Rick

    So, if you can’t teach the students basic skills to pass standardized tests, you change the conversation and curriculum to teach them Spanish. Typical liberal diversion tactic.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 12:39 pm
  • Michelle

    Spanish was already attempted to be taught in “Specials”. I don’t know any child that was able to learn Spanish from that method. It was a complete waste of time.

    I do wonder where all the new found funds are coming from. I would like to see an explanation about that. Something had to be cut. In the meantime, I am still providing tissues and Clorox wipes for the class rooms.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 1:04 pm
  • Mare

    Really??? This is just another educational “trend” that will waste local teaching jobs, waste valuable classroom time, lower teacher morale and cost taxpayers lots of money only to find a few years later it doesn’t work. By that time the damage is done! Sure…another language has wonderful benefits, but Americans need to learn correct English first! Parents have the choice to hire their own private Spanish teachers.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 2:05 pm
  • Really?

    The superintendent should be more concerned why some teachers feel they can’t speak their minds without fear of consequences than worrying about teaching a few kids Spanish. That’s a real issue there.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 3:42 pm
  • Stan Clough

    This is really a bad approach to what must be deemed to be a problem by someone who is looking for problems without any idea what real problems are.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 7:54 pm
  • Stan Clough

    People come here illegally and you ignore your own citizens and teachers to import teachers from the failed countries that people illegally came from.
    Whats up with that ?
    English needs to be learned by everyone. Here. Our kids need education not some odd social experiment.

    Friday, Apr 20 @ 8:03 pm
  • DanO

    Schools don’t teach cursive writing anymore and now they want to teach the kids Spanish. Why don’t we drop american history. Kids can’t read the original documents that our country was founded upon. Lack of common sense prevails in our halls of educations.

    Saturday, Apr 21 @ 8:52 am
  • chris

    What is wrong in this picture? Import teachers on our dollar? We spend enough on programs like literacy volenters to teach illegal aliens. I had a classmate in high school from Mexico that outdid me on SAT verbal that knew no english as a freshman. I had spanish speaking people that had to be taught english by writing two by four on a board at a jobsite. The program that they propose is about as dumb as when my dad went to school and was forced to learn and speak Latin. Let the parents and students decide.

    Saturday, Apr 21 @ 12:16 pm
  • 4thekid

    “Many of the teachers have master’s degrees with at least five years of experience,” Parker said.
    Wow. According to the NC Teacher Salary Schedule for 2017-2018, which I quickly and easily pulled up on the web, this Participate teacher will be paid a salary of $42,150 by Dare County Schools. A new teacher, fresh out of college would be paid $35,000 by Dare County Schools.
    42, 130
    = 7,130
    Math is hard, but it is not that hard. Why would Dare County import third world teachers and pay them $7,130 more just because they have a Master’s Degree from THEIR OWN country than they would a local teacher who just graduated from a known and trusted university? I would much rather my child be taught by a recent graduate who is looking to put down roots and live in our OBX community than a transient worker who is being paid a huge amount more for “experience” teaching in a third world country. This person has NO EXPERIENCE working with American students in an American classroom. What happened to the Dare County ideal of keeping local jobs to stop young people from moving away? Dare County high school graduates, take note. If you are considering majoring in education, think again! Dare County Schools is farming out teaching jobs to foreigners. You stand no chance of being hired in your own county. This program is going to continue for many years, so choose a new major. Or, maybe you can contact Participate…perhaps they will hire you to teach abroad… After you learn fluent Spanish, of course.

    Saturday, Apr 21 @ 1:06 pm
  • Just me

    The new superintendent has done a lot of good for our school system too. So lets not forget that.

    Do I like the idea of this program, not really. I am more concerned about children that are being pushed through the cracks that can’t read or write. Those that are not held back in grades when it is in the best interest of the child. I am concerned about students getting diplomas and still not mastering the skills mentioned above. I am concerned about students that are not going to college, but have no classes to prepare them for things like plumbing, welding and just life skills. This is what I want to see.

    Please stop worrying about political mess and lets work together.

    Saturday, Apr 21 @ 1:19 pm
  • kdh

    An additional concern to bringing in the teachers from outside the US…to replace local teachers in the Spanish Immersion program… is that positions in the school’s central office as well as in the individual schools are being filled by people the superintendent knew in Edgecombe Co. Local school employees are being overlooked for promotions as he brings in his friends for newly created jobs and promised positions in the future. He came to a better performing county than the one he left. This is the Outer Banks of NC…..not Edgecombe by the Sea.

    Saturday, Apr 21 @ 5:46 pm
  • katy

    The new superintendent started by sending many e-mails to parents to make them feel like he cared.Since his medical leave the parents have not received any e-mails or updates.
    All the students should have the privilege to learn Spanish language as second language .All of them!
    Not to mentioned the money that should be invested to fixing the sad looking old bathrooms in some of the secondary schools.
    He hired at least 3 people from his previous county.One of them is the assistant principal at FFMS .Watch out teachers because he will replace you with someone from Edgecombe County.He should hire people best for the position not “old friends” .Is he so afraid he has the need to place “his”people here to spy for him.I wonder.You will see lots of good teachers retiring very soon.

    Saturday, Apr 21 @ 10:06 pm
  • katy

    There is not enough More at 4 programs.They help kids not to fail kindergarten!The waiting list is so long and there is big need to expand those classes first.
    Help kids prepare to be good students so they do not get behind because of Common Core high standards that starts already in kindergarten.Find funds for those kids first so they have a chance to do well in school and in life.You chose some kids to do something special that other kids do not have but instead of helping 4 year old one to learn basic you are helping few classes to do something “special”.If those kids do not get help early on they will get behind and will never have a chance to catch up.By the way everybody should learn Spanish as second language!

    Saturday, Apr 21 @ 10:21 pm
  • scales of balance

    Pretty obvious by these comments who attended the info sessions and who didn’t.

    Sunday, Apr 22 @ 2:39 pm
  • Run don't walk

    One need only look at Farrely’s pedigree. This is purely a move to cater to ESL students … Farrely is a globalist and, more than likely, you could find a money trail that is lining some pockets on this program. IF this was really about “global” education and becoming more marketable in a “world economy,” they would be immersing the kids in Chinese at a young age. Economically, that is where the opportunities will be.

    Regarding the “most teachers have Master’s degrees” quote, there is no research that shows teachers with advanced degrees result in better outcomes for elementary school kids.

    Sadly, this is another public school (government) ruse perpetrated on the public who–since many folks are poorly-educated drones–fall for the trick.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 9:07 am
  • Seal

    The number one place that someone is needed to speak/translate the spanish language right now is in law enforcement and the court system not being recruited by the Fortune 500 companies !!!

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 3:07 pm
  • Kitty hawker

    @scalesofbalance – I did attend the information meetings. A lot of questions went unanswered. The timeline on all of this seems entirely too fast – maybe because the superintendent is wants this immersion program ready for his children to be a part of it?

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 8:50 pm
  • Jon

    Mandarin will not be the language of global commerce. When I was in high school, everybody thought we’d need to learn Japanese, and that certainly did not turn out to be the case. China’s pending demographic problem is just as bad as Japan’s is now. China’s population is at its peak and its workforce is rapidly aging. Manufacturing is already shifting to other Pacific rim countries.

    If you want to learn another language that will be globally relevant in 2040 I’d suggest Hindi or Spanish, together with English and Mandarin these are the top four languages, but English doesn’t show any signs of weakening in global commerce.

    Tuesday, Apr 24 @ 11:57 am
  • MES parent

    I agree that this is about fixing Manteo Elementary School and the abysmal testing scores due to the large ESL population.
    And for those of you stating that this is such a good idea and that other countries learn a second language, I would counter that most of those countries are learning English. NOT Spanish. Because as mentioned already, English is the most relevant language for global commerce.

    Sunday, May 6 @ 8:18 am
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