Possible Consolidation of School District's Immersion Programs Sparks Debate

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Community members were turned away from public testimony at the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education meeting Wednesday night due to an unusually high number of speakers coming forward to talk about the possible consolidation of the district's language immersion programs.

At the board's study session, district curriculum and instruction director Christina Faulkner and evaluation and assessment director Rebecca Cheung presented a summary of the district's three English-learner programs and offered several recommendations to the board regarding future research and potential changes to the programs. Their analysis was based in part on a study by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

Among the report's recommendations, the consolidation of the district's Two-Way Immersion program at one school elicited the largest response from the community.

"The goal for the TWI program is that both the English learners and the Spanish learners become biliterate," Cheung said at the meeting. "Spanish speakers and English speakers are learning Spanish and English."

Cragmont Elementary, Rosa Parks Elementary, LeConte Elementary and Longfellow Magnet Middle School each run two different immersion programs simultaneously - the Two-Way Immersion program and the Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English program, which Cheung called "complementary" to instruction in English.

Berkeley resident Jeanne Panek said at the meeting that the current program is unable to provide adequate after-school support for native English speakers in the Two-Way Immersion program who are learning Spanish but do not speak the language at home.

"If it were all consolidated in one school, they would have the resources in an after-school program where the teachers would be able to speak Spanish and understand the homework," Panek said.

Several community members also addressed the decline in participation in the Two-Way Immersion program, noting specifically a surplus of native English speakers and a shortage of native Spanish speakers - a result that some attributed to the requirement that parents elect for their children to enter the Two-Way Immersion program.

"BUSD does not sufficiently support outreach for the native Spanish-speaking community in Berkeley," Panek said.

Superintendent Bill Huyett said the district does not have the staff for a "full-blown community engagement process" and invited the community to create its own grassroots initiative to inform Spanish-speaking families about the program.


Contact Sarah Burns at [email protected]

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