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.

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  • 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