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Some D65 Latino Parents Upset By Lack Of Choice

Are native Spanish-speaking families automatically enrolled in the Two-Way Immersion Program?

Back in April, 2011, I wrote a , expressing questions and concerns about whether or not the program works for all kids.

All three of my children (who are native English speakers) have been enrolled in the program since kindergarten at Washington School. After reading about inclusion programs, we felt a Two-Way Immersion (or TWI) program was not only an incredible way for native Spanish speakers to learn English, but also a way for native English speakers like our kids to embrace Spanish. The program sounded like a fluid, natural way for students to work side-by-side, helping one another see the benefits and beauty of two cultures on a daily basis. At the time our oldest began the program, we hoped our kids might even become bilingual by the time they entered high school.

My oldest child will tell you he was never a fan of the program. As he’s described it many times, we “dropped” him into the confusing world of a foreign language on his first day of kindergarten and barely made it through his elementary school experience. While I think his assessment is a bit of an exaggeration, I have no doubt that the program was not designed for a kid like him. Why? When we allowed him to switch out of Spanish in middle-school and into basic French -- taught in the traditional way of memorizing vocabulary and conjugating verbs -- his comprehension, conversation and written abilities were above grade level.

It was another story with our middle child. She’s loved the TWI program from the start and, as a rising seventh grader, she’s currently reading novels in Spanish.

My youngest child, who enters fourth grade in the fall, yearns for the day when TWI will be done “so I can understand what the teacher is saying.” Fourth grade is a huge year for TWI students in that they begin learning math in English (rather than in Spanish).

I often fall asleep wondering if enrolling my kids in TWI was the right call…but the bottom line is, it was our choice to make. Recently, some frustrated Latino parents in Evanston spoke out about not having been given that choice, claiming their children have been automatically been enrolled in the district’s TWI program based solely on their last names and/or heritage.

Larry Gavin wrote a great June 20 article about the issue in the Evanston Roundtable, as did Charles Bartling on Evanston Now.

I posted Bartling’s article on my Facebook page and received a flood of messages and emails in response. Prompted by many of these responses, Michelle Brewer, former Chair of BPAC (Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee), wrote and sent the following letter, copying the former BPAC chairs as well as D65 school board members, Superintendent Hardy Murphy and Yesenia Vázquez, Coordinator of Bilingual Educational Services:

Dear D65 Board members, Dr. Murphy and Ms. Vazquez,  

I'm a little surprised to find out through the Evanston Now article below what happened at a recent D65 Board meeting.  The comments people are posting in response to it are horrible.  I have not seen the Board meeting yet.  I have some questions:

  • Does current research support the TWI Program as best practice for English Language Learners?
  • Is our TWI program keeping up with current recommendations in practice?
  • If so, is D65 providing all parents on a regular basis with information about:
    • What the TWI program is and does
    • Why it is a successful model for teaching kids English
    • Statistics about how children do in this program
    • Why it's important for kids to continue to learn in Spanish
    • Current demographic trends in Evanston and the US that support the benefits of fluency in a language other than English
  • Is D65 reaching out, in person, to the parents of English Language Learners at the preschool level, upon registration and during the testing process about why this program is the model we use to educate their children?  
  • Is the testing process clearly outlined to families? 
  • Are principals and teachers in schools that house the TWI program given opportunities to educate and enrich their school communities on the benefits of this program and how it makes their school a stronger community?  
  • Are PTA activities within TWI schools embracing their TWI community?
  • Is the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee aware of this problem?

Hopefully this is a small amount of families that need more information and support from the district.  While I don't really need each of you to answer all of my questions directly, I would respectfully ask the district to reach out to these families that attended the Board meeting, examine the testing process and promote TWI to everyone.  D65 and the Evanston community have spent 11 years supporting this program in countless ways so that children can learn English and succeed in school.  We need to honor that.

Thank you,

Michelle Brewer

Former D65 Bilingual Parent Advisory Chair

After reading Michelle's letter, I’m anxious to hear any and all responses, particularly yours.

(And, while I don’t mean to nitpick, is it too much to ask the District 65 webmaster to list “bilingual education” in the table of contents in its proper alphabetical order, rather than between “brochures” and “budget”?)

Procrustes' Foil June 25, 2012 at 11:16 AM
I am a recently retired Chicago Public School teacher. I taught in an area that was largely Hispanic. From my experience, students who did well in immersion/dual language/bilingual programs had parents who were moderately proficient in English. Further, many bilingual teachers are NOT truly bilingual. They teach exclusively in the language in which they are most comfortable, usually Spanish. No one wants to openly discuss this problem for fear of being labeled a bigot. But if non-English speaking children are to prosper, their parents must also be immersed in English so that the children can practice it outside of the school.
Christine Wolf June 25, 2012 at 01:20 PM
After nine years as a parents in the Evanston TWI program, I have yet to see accountability or pre- and post-assessments for what my kids ought to learn grade by grade (similar to Illinois learning standards). It's been a leap of faith for so many families, and I'd like to see some accountability on the part of the district for this program.
Lonson Williams June 25, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Do you REALLY expect the District 65 Board members or Superintendent to respond to Brewer's letter? The insanity with the school referendum and their handling of the district budget suggests they have no real interest in honest engagement with the public. Murphy needs to go and the Board needs to actually have a vision for what successful education outcomes are in this community.
Alejandra June 25, 2012 at 07:43 PM
I have to agree with you Luci. I am not a parent or teacher, but I do interact with Hispanic children through volunteering at my church. I find that the children in the bilingual and TWI programs in D65 that speak Spanish at home are coming to me reading at lower level of English than those in regular classes. In the bilingual program kids at least have the goal of learning enoughEenglish to leave the program, but the TWI students don't have that goal. While I support keeping and teaching a second language, since I too am Hispanic and speak both languages fluently, I also feel that for any child to succeed in this country, English has to be more important than learning or retaining Spanish, or any other language. If you can accomplish both, it's better, but when a child is speaking Spanish at home and at school they are losing vital educational opportunities. The program has been around for over 15 years, I'd love to see how the children from the TWI program are faring in HS and beyond compared to the regular program. I feel that this program is mostly hindering the Hispanic minority, since they are the ones not learning any English. While it might be a benefit for children that don't speak Spanish at home. Would still love to see the comparison.
Christine Wolf July 02, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Ms. Brewer reports she heard back immediately from two school board members: Eileen Budde and Richard Rykhus, both of whom have promised to put this issue on an upcoming school board agenda.

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