Fifth grade added to Spanish immersion program

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The Wilson County Board of Education voted Monday to extend the Spanish immersion program to include fifth grade.

Previously, the program encompassed kindergarten through fourth grade.

For years, parents of Spanish immersion students have been asking for the addition of fifth grade. Some have said parents had been promised a fifth-grade year when the program was started in 2013.

“I am so encouraged about the future of the Spanish immersion program after attending the instructional services committee meeting,” said Jessica Satterfield, one of a group of parents who have spoken many times in support of the program.

“I appreciate the time invested and the acknowledgment of parent support,” Satterfield said in the public input portion of the meeting. “I am encouraged by the direction Spanish immersion is going in Wilson County and would love to see it be a pipeline enrolling students in Wilson County Schools and then remaining in this school system through graduation.”

Board of Education Chairwoman Christine Fitch said when kindergarten registration took place on March 11, some 29 people expressed interest in having their children enroll in Spanish immersion, a bilingual program in which students are taught in English and in Spanish. There are about 117 students in the program.

The program is administered through Participate, which charges $46,300 for the materials and support.

The instructional committee considered whether to continue the current K-4 model or expand that to K-5. Based on extensive research presented by WCS associate superintendent Cheryl Wilson, the committee suggested the full board approve the K-5 model.

The committee agreed that the board should adopt a 50/50 English/Spanish program structure.

Other options were 75/25 and 90/10 Spanish/English structure, but Wilson said those options would require a supplemental English literacy teacher.

Fitch made a motion on behalf of the instructional services committee to move forward with the Spanish immersion to be a K-5 program with 50/50 instruction.

Board member Ryan Breen asked if the motion could be split into two parts, one regarding the K-5 question and the other regarding the program structure.

“The reason is we talk about it being a menu, but with it being a menu, I would hate to order for everybody without finding out what everybody wants to eat,” Breen said. “I think it would probably be most prudent if we talk to the people who have to live in and deal with and create lesson plans and try to thrive under this program. I think it would be important to talk to and I understand from talking to you all out there that there have been discussions previously, but I would ask that the board consider returning that particular issue concerning structure back to the students and their parents as well as the teachers.”

Wilson said it was Participate that offered the recommendation of the 50/50 structure.

“At the crux, what is it that we could do to help our program flourish? Our numbers were dwindling. What is it that we could do to help those students, grow the program and have more diverse students and have more students and not have that issue where the child is in the kindergarten or first grade and they are not doing well, to make parents feel comfortable that their child is still getting the English language?” Wilson said. “So based on Participate’s recommendation, that’s why we went with the 50/50 in the kindergarten and first grade.”

Wilson reminded the board that the decision had to be made soon, as the contract with Participate has to be renewed by April 16.

Board member Velma Barnes said Wilson had worked hard to bring information back to the committee and the board.

“You have done a lot of fact-finding and I don’t feel pushed to allow you all to go back to the teachers and talk about the model that would work best for them since they are the ones that are actually teaching in the classroom, but at the same time, very mindful that we are under a timeframe for making a decision,” Barnes said.

Wilson said Wilson County Schools currently has four Spanish immersion teachers and three of them are leaving the district.

“So, Mr. Breen, you are going to have to hope that the motion that I made on behalf of the committee fails,” Fitch said.

Breen then made a substitute motion to expand the Spanish immersion program to from K-4 to K-5, leaving aside the question of structure.

Board member Debora Powell seconded the motion and the board voted 6-1 to pass the motion with Fitch voting in opposition.

The board discussed the need to take action soon because of the Participate contract status.

“I don’t mind waiting a reasonable amount to get some more information, but if we are going to get the same information again, we’re just as well off to make a decision now,” said board member Henry Mercer. “I’ll be honest with you. I want the decision to be made and I’m sure the parents do too. As soon as we can get it done, I want it done.”

Barnes agreed.

“We’ve been pushing this wagon for a long time and it’s time to make a decision,” Barnes said. “The more we keep digging and pushing, I think we are going to find ourselves back at the same place we are now. I just feel personally like it is a time to make a decision and stand with it.”

Fitch moved to approve the 50/50 structure, which Barnes seconded. The board voted 6-1 with Breen opposed.

Fitch quoted a survey of 82 people about transportation for Spanish immersion students.

“Many of the students being transported currently are being transported by carpool in personal vehicle,” Fitch said. “There are some that are on school bus shuttle from Wells to Frederick Douglass and some who are being shuttled from Hearne to Frederick Douglass. There are some who have a combination of riding the bus some days and other ways on other days .”

Another question raised was whether the families were depending on WCS transportation.

Fitch said 61 percent said no and 32 percent said yes.

A survey question asked whether parents would be able to bring their children to Frederick Douglass if the shuttle was discontinued.

Fitch said 67, or 81.7 percent, said yes, they would be able to provide transportation for their children to stay in the program, but 18.3 percent, or 15, said no.

The committee recommended that WCS provide transportation for students within Spanish immersion and allow the administration to work out the structure. The board voted unanimously in support of that motion.

In other business, the board:

• voted unanimously to name the Lucama Elementary School gymnasium after Hugh M. Flowers after a number of Lucama residents made a recommendation.

• unanimously passed 12 draft policies on second readings. They included lesson planning, grouping students for differentiated instruction, parental inspection of and objection to educational resources, copyright compliance, school calendar and time for learning, evaluation of student progress, students at risk of academic failure, religion in the schools, special education programs/rights of students with disabilities, focus on students service animals in schools and disciplinary action for exceptional children/students with disabilities.