Bilingual education endangered at elementary school - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Bilingual education endangered at elementary school

Chavez Elementary School students show off their Spanish-language skills Chavez Elementary School students show off their Spanish-language skills

MADISON (WKOW) -- It's not the end of Dual-Language Immersion program at Chavez Elementary School, according to parent Katie Johanski.

"The School Board has shown its support, and I have full faith that we can figure out ways to strengthen the program in the next year," Johanski said.

Johanski has two children, one daughter in the DLI program and one son entering kindergarten in the 2013-14 school year.

Chavez introduced the Dual-Language Immersion program, which includes a mix of Spanish and English instruction to both native and non-native Spanish speakers, two years ago. However, because of a shortage of Spanish-speaking families enrolling in the program, the school district recommended discontinuing the program.

Schools say the split of native-Spanish speakers to non-native is ideally 50/50. At Chavez, however, "it became a one-way immersion class instead of a two-way," interim superintendent Jane Belmore said.

On Monday, the Madison Board of Education voted to accept the district's recommendation.

Current DLI students such as Johanski's daughter can continue their program for another year. However, the program is not offered to incoming kindergartners such as her son.

The school board says they're open to working with parents.

"The parents have had a lot of great ideas, and we're open to continue talking with them about how we might move the program forward," Belmore said.

Belmore said she and the school board members are behind the DLI program, and are upset that Chavez has not been able to sustain the program up until this point.

For other parents, the ideal ratio of native-Spanish speaker to non-native speakers is less important than their children learning the Spanish language. 

"They say that there's not enough native Spanish speakers, but I think that if it's working and the kids are learning, they should continue the program and try to get more Spanish speakers in the program," said Chavez parent Austin Albrecht, who has a 6-year-old daughter in the DLI program.

Belmore says there wasn't enough time to make changes to the program for the upcoming school year.

"Students are signing up for programs right now for next year, so we really just didn't have time to make sure. We didn't want to start something again without making sure we could follow through with it," Belmore said.

Belmore says parents and board members discussed several options to improve Chavez's DLI program, including: differing the amount of time for English and Spanish instruction, modifying the 50/50 ratio of Spanish-speaking to English-speaking students, and providing foreign language instruction for the students once they move to primarily English learning.

Parent Austin Albrecht feels everything is "wishy-washy," and is thinking about moving his family to another school district.

"We're looking around. We may transfer because it looks like they're mixed. There's Midvale, but I don't think we can get into that because they're full as far as I know. I think Verona is starting a program," Albrecht said.

Johanski is willing to stick with Chavez for now.

"At the time it seemed devastating, but we learned a lot about what it takes to maintain a dual language program. I've gotten to a point where I understand. All the parents do, but it's still an emotional thing to see their kids' program be weakened, and for anyone to suggest that it wouldn't carry on," Johanski said.

Belmore says that the school board is working to come up with alternatives such as allow parents to transfer to another bilingual program if it's within the district and if there's space.

As for reinstating Chavez's DLI program in the future, Belmore said, "It's a possibility. I wouldn't completely rule that out."

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