Spanish Immersion: is So Much More.

PART 2

Inspired by Parent Interviews

Author, Jaime Kokaisel

published March 18th, 2022

A TWO PART SERIES

CLICK HERE for PART 1 – “Spanish Immersion: Meet Equity.

I cover some pretty controversial subjects in this piece, but that’s okay. The more I talk to people, the more I learn, the more I ponder, and the more I relate. The truth is, my spirit has never been more full of hope than it is at this moment. Despite the heavy subjects, I have been inspired by the process of discovery. Every day I think how far I have come from the day before, yet every day I experience a new revelation that humbles me into submitting how much more I have to learn.

PART 1 ended with the question, “If Spanish Immersion in SoWashCo has not been inclusive as a single language immersion program, then will a shift to an “equitable inclusive dual language Immersion program” make it more so? It’s a mouthful of words to digest. If you are like me, you might ask yourself, “How do these fancy words affect my fellow neighbor, my Mexican friend, my community, and its surrounding Districts, States and Countries?”

I needed some perspective. So I spoke with a good friend about her childhood, growing up in a bilingual home. Her mother was from Mexico City and her father was from Santa Fe. By the time her parents married, had children, and were living in Chicago, they were fluent in the two languages: Spanish and English. Spanish was the only allowed language at home however, and so she learned English at the Private Catholic school she attended. She grew up to go on to college, earn a degree in Chemical Engineering, marry her husband, become a successful business woman, and have two amazing children.

She was immersed in one language while at home, and she was immersed in another language while at school. Her situation was ideal for what I would think best nurtures assimilation into a new society while preserving a families cultural identity. I can’t help but think, had she attended a dual language program, would she have gained the skills and confidence to be as successful as she is today?

Second Language is a Gift

I LOVE the idea of a second language education for all kids. What an incredible gift for a young person to receive! The younger the better. I was so excited when we moved into the district in 2010 to know my children would learn Mandarin Chinese at Liberty Ridge Elementary School! But it was not to be. By 2012 the program was cut.

There are 17 elementary schools in SoWashCo (including VLA). How many of those schools currently have a second language program? I asked the SoWashCo Director of Communication and Community Relations, Pepe Barton, this question three weeks ago. This is public information so I am sure he will get back to me eventually, but without an answer, I began asking around the community. I learned that NFSI is and has been the only elementary school to offer a second language since 2012.

There are 8,300 elementary students in our district. If NFSI, with its 480 students, is one out of 17 elementary schools to offer a secondary language, this means only 17 % are afforded the opportunity.

Will an equitable inclusive dual language Immersion program solve this problem? No, it won’t.

POST UPDATE: Pepe Barton’s response to my question was received the same day this article posted on Friday, March 18th, 2022 at 12:37 PM. “Offering world languages was a phase in education nationally and statewide. In Sowashco Schools, we focused on Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. With so many school districts across the country competing for world language teachers, there was often a shortage. The volume of teachers needed to fill these positions meant that the push for world language was eventually phased out. So that’s the real reason. The attached chart is the info we have available.” The chart shows 14 elementary schools with world language programs through 2015, when the program ended. (Chart available to anyone upon request.)

Why is an English Learner different from a Spanish Learner in the eyes of the school district?

Conflicting Research

There appears to be conflicting RESEARCH where dual language is concerned. Bilingual experts routinely impress upon education systems the importance of second language acquisition in a FULL immersion setting and exposure while young. Traveling, or living in, another country expedites the learning process.

However, Principal Maldonado justifies the dual language program in SoWashCo by using this graph, which shows the OPPOSITE for an ENGLISH LEARNER. It says “Research shows dual language immersion programs are the most effective model for English Learners.”

Slide from SoWashCo School Showcase NFSI

https://www.sowashco.org/about-us/school-board/meeting/~board/school-board-meetings/post/february-3-2022-workshop-meeting-1643400637306 (See 4.1 PPT)

On their school website, NFSI just recently updated their DL intent and explained further, “NFSI is a 90/10 program; this means that when students enter the program in kindergarten, 90% of their day and instruction will be in Spanish while 10% will be in English. This percentage will incrementally change each year, and students will ultimately receive instruction in a 50/50 balance by 5th grade.”

https://nfsi.sowashco.org/about-us (Above referenced information is available here as of the publishing of this article)

It is obvious though that Native Spanish speakers would naturally be “immersed” in the English language simply by going to their neighborhood school. It is the same as Nuevas Fronteras justifying its dedicated immersion school . I understand comfort in familiarity, but if immersion in the second language is what works best for an American, then immersion in the second language is what works best for a Mexican. IMMERSION IS IMMERSION.

Spanish spoken at home and Spanish spoken at school is not going to afford Latino’s and Hispanic’s the opportunity to learn English fluently and be immersed in American culture.

Will an equitable inclusive dual language Immersion program, which speaks 50-90% Spanish, benefit the native Spanish Speaker? No, it will not. Will dilution of the immersion program benefit the native English Speaker? No it will not.

Repeating History

Roberto Alvarez vs. the Lemon Grove School District is an important court case that paved the way for Brown v Board of Education. In 1931, it was the first successful school desegregation case in US history, and yet Roberto’s story is overlooked by the American public school education system. Why? Please see JAiME for SCHOOLS March 8th Book Review “IS Roberto Alvarez or WAS Roberto Alvarez” to learn more.

Christy Hale writes, “In the almost twenty year period between the beginning of the Mexican Revolution (1910) and the start of the Great Depression (1929), more than a million Mexicans arrived in the United States.” Would you say history is repeating itself now less than a Century later?

“Dual language immersion” comes from the West Coast, Southern California, the same region that quietly segregated Mexican American children from Anglo children in the 1930’s through separate school buildings. The school board was so embarrassed by the bad publicity that they tried to hide the court ruling. Bilingual education in California continues to be controversial to this day.

Different time, different place, different words, SAME RESULTS.

The 21st century may be a different time than centuries past, our location may be different from humanitarian atrocities across the globe, the definition of key societal words may change depending on which political party defines it for you… but they are all one and the same.

If you have any information to offer about Language Immersion (here, there, now or then) or you notice something I missed, please reach out to me through the “Contact Me” section of my Homepage.

Let us be careful not to allow the segregation of the past to enter into 21st century, disguised as equity.

SoWashCo is becoming more and more diverse every year, but have you noticed diversity is held tightly to Newport and Woodbury’s West end? NFSI Principal, Cynthia Maldonado tells me “The largest non-English home language in our district is Spanish”. MDE Report Card stats reveal native Spanish speakers make up 8.8% of the public school population.

https://rc.education.mn.gov/#demographics/orgId–10833000000__groupType–district__p–12

Common sense conclusion: As more and more native Spanish speakers join NFSI, it will inherently become more and more Hispanic (or Latino) – less and less American. Slowly but surely, races will be separated by school buildings. Call it equity … Call it whatever modern day will call it … but if we cower in fear now for being called racist, then our kindness has the potential to segregate.

The Middle School and High School are situated conveniently on the West end. The Pathway, as it was designed, will be a very smooth process for native Spanish speakers – not so much though for native English speakers. Which make one wonder … If the Pathway was designed to be accessible for the predominantly non-white population, then what does that say about the Pathway mission statement?

“Preparing students linguistically, academically and socially to contribute to, and thrive in, an ever-changing world.”

https://nfsi.sowashco.org/academics/spanish-immersion-pathway

Will an “equitable inclusive dual language Immersion” program solve this problem? No, it will not.

Which leads me to my final observation.

Who is God in Spanish Immersion?

Christianity is very important to the Hispanic and Latino people. I’m not sure what the exact statistic is, but faith in God is growing faster in Central and South America than in the North, and faster than most places around the world. The American public school is quite hostile toward a God loving people though. It will not meet the Latino (or Hispanic) culture where they are at. I believe it will try to change their culture. Maybe it is the protective side of me, or maybe it is simply my humanity that does not want to stand by and watch evil overtake the young, the vulnerable, the weak, and the oppressed.

I look at all the observations above and the patterns of growth and destruction running like a hamster wheel through time, and I can’t help but think it is not mere coincidence. My hope is in weakness though, believe it or not. It is in our greatest weakness we find our greatest strength.

If inclusive dual Spanish Immersion was not designed to benefit the students, then who?

The school district always comes first.

Problem: With a functional capacity of 556 students at NFSI, the current enrollment of 480 students means they are not full. Where there used to be waiting lists, now there are not. Why? Distance learning and a helplessness to provide education as a parent. Lack of Spanish speaking subs. Unjustified covid-19 mitigation practices. The intangible promise of a quality education. Solution: Diversify.

Problem: By Middle School, the immersion program historically looses a significant number of students. By High School, enrollment in the program is at a small fraction of what it was when it began. Why? Busing is not provided, and kids choose to go to their boundary schools instead. Maybe it’s convenience. Solution: Diversify.

Problem: The district has to remain competitive with surrounding Districts, 622 and 834. Why? They are talking about starting Language Immersion Schools as well. Solution: Offer something different. Diversify.

Problem: Test scores have not proven to be as high as the program boasted they would be by 5th grade. Why? I’m curious to know. Solution: Diversify.

WHAT changed in the last 20 years that would cause the district to establish new goals NOW?

PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE.

I am still looking for the answer to this question. If you have more insight on the subject, I’m all ears. For now I have to go on what I do know…

The goals have changed with the leadership. Dual language Immersion is what Cynthia has wanted ever since she joined the district in 2015, and she wants dual at all grade levels. Covid enrollment fall-off appears to have sped up the process, as has the hyper attachment to racial injustice initiatives. Progressive curriculum across our district and districts across the State of Minnesota have grown out of school districts who now give front door service to BLM activists.

The COVID effect

I would argue though that district mitigations probably hit SI the hardest. When teachers fell ill, Spanish substitutes were much harder to come by. Jessica Reginek says “My 2nd grader was in Kindergarten when covid started. The program lost so many people during distance learning. Their eyes were opened. Zero English is spoken or read until the 2nd grade. It’s one thing to hear this about the program. It’s another to see it.”

Most parents who send their kids to immersion don’t speak Spanish and have never been immersed in a language themselves. The parents I spoke with who left the program really had no idea what Immersion looked like until distance learning began and they were helpless to educate their children.

I interviewed Jessica in early February, prior to the mask mandate being lifted for Elementary School children. She said “NFSI has been in a state of high mitigation since November. I have not been allowed in the building.” This means kids have been confined to their rooms in masks with no gym, no cafeteria and no media. Jessica says, “They can’t breathe. My 5th grader comes home with headaches every day.”

Masks

As difficult as masking has been for all public school elementary children, imagine those trying to learn a second language with no facial expressions to read.

Language immersion programs have routinely expressed in the past that the most successful learning model for second language acquisition is through the use of ALL FIVE SENSES: Sight, Smell, Taste, Touch and Sound.

But now, when asked about how the district masking policy has impacted second language learning, especially for those in K, 1, and 2, Principal Cynthia Maldonado told me, “Face coverings in our program have not been a problem. We purchased MICROPHONES for all teachers in order to be heard well throughout the classrooms.”

But Jessica says, “When you are masked and you are in an immersion setting, the second language acquisition is really hard to do. It is an impossible barrier for children, while communicating, to not SEE the mouth of the person who is speaking. I speak Spanish fluently. Lip reading is important, and the only reason I know that is because I was immersed in a Spanish speaking country myself. For me, looking at their mouth was huge.”

In February, when I was first compelled to write about our districts “equitable” dual language immersion program, I didn’t know why I was so drawn to it. I like the idea of small choice programs within the larger school structure of public school. Smaller is better for kids. I can think of so many great choice programs we could implement in the same way.

For instance, a Classical School model with more reading, handwriting, and less reliance on computers could be a great choice program, and it would save on district technology costs. Second Language programs across all 16 elementary schools could also be more beneficial to kids across the entire district. It would allow them to attend their neighborhood school while meeting them where they are at. 15 years ago we used to have that. Why did it disappear with the introduction of a separate SI building?

Some of the reasoning behind Spanish Immersions past, present, and future just doesn’t add up.

JAiME for SCHOOLS March 18th 2022

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