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The Wilson County Board of Education voted Monday to continue the Spanish immersion program.
In a split vote, with six members voting for and one member, Chairwoman Christine Fitch, voting against, the board approved the continuation of the program in kindergarten through fourth grades, but elected not to offer the dual-language program for fifth-graders.
Additionally, the board decided to eliminate the possibility of offering Spanish immersion to middle-school students.
As part of the decision, the board elected to have an annual review of the program.
Students who had chosen to attend Elm City Elementary School to participate in the program will be grandfathered in and permitted to stay at the school for their fifth-grade year if they choose to, but once they reach middle school age, they will have to return to the middle school where they would have ordinarily been assigned had they not elected to pursue the program.
There are 117 children in Wilson County Schools who are enrolled in Spanish immersion and there are 24 new students who have applied to enroll as kindergarteners in the program.
Ten parents of Spanish immersion students spoke in favor of the program.
“I know and believe that Spanish immersion is a valuable program, I know that it does all of the good things that all of these parents have told us about and that the students have demonstrated. I don’t doubt that for a moment, but I also appreciate that there are 11,300 and some students that are in need of our concern too,” said board member Beverly Boyette. “We must see that they get their basic education.”
After the decision was made, Scott Hanchett a Spanish immersion parent who has attended months of school board meetings speaking in favor of the program, said he was cautiously optimistic about it because the program was granted a reprieve for continuation from kindergarten through fourth grade.
“It’s not really the best decision I would have liked,” Hanchett said, pointing out that he wished that the program had been continued through fifth grade. “At least the program is in its continuance and we are going to continue to push and strive to have this program grow and thrive.”
Hanchett referred to the program as being “the crown jewel of Wilson County Schools.”
“They talk about the declining numbers,’ Hanchett said. “This is what will bring people back into the schools and be a way that they can celebrate the educational opportunities that we have in Wilson County.”
Jessica Satterfield, a parent of a Spanish immersion student, said she was thrilled that the program is going to continue after the work that she and other parents have put in to support it.
“I am very disappointed that it is not going to continue at the fifth-grade level,” Satterfield. “I feel that is not what we were told when we started the program and I feel like the students that are in fourth grade now, and this is their school, are not getting an equitable opportunity to finish what they started.”