Spanish Immersion in Eastern NC

I spent my spring break at home in eastern North Carolina, volunteering at my elementary school, which also happens to be where my mother has been a kindergarten teacher for years. In any discussion on Education, you can almost certainly find me using my mom’s experiences as a teacher to provide examples of a theory or a belief in practice. I won’t bore you with yet another generic story about the kindergarten world. Instead, I’ll tell you the story of the newly implemented Spanish immersion program in my hometown of Wilson, NC.

A few years ago, Spanish immersion was a foreign idea in my rural NC hometown, and to potentially start teaching Spanish to kindergarteners seemed to many to be an unrealistic goal. It was implemented anyway, and today about twenty-four kindergarteners at Wells Elementary opt to enroll in Spanish immersion, which means their entire school day is in Spanish. My mother is a “traditional” kindergarten teacher, so she and a few others teach alongside the kindergarten Spanish immersion teacher, who is a wonderful teacher and someone I’m proud to call a friend.

According to the page on the Wilson County Schools website, rising kindergarteners are assessed prior to being accepted into Spanish immersion, with the reasoning being that if students are to be taught entirely in Spanish, they must have some basic academic ability before entering kindergarten. I don’t know how many students are not admitted after this process, and I won’t attempt to guess. But what I have noticed is that a large portion of the students who make up the kindergarten program are from white, financially stable families; from what I’ve seen, I would argue that over seventy-five percent of the students who go into the kindergarten immersion program are white. I have talked briefly in some of my Education classes about the concept of tracking. Let me ask you: Could this Spanish immersion program potentially contribute to tracking later on in school? Should we be concerned about the lack of diversity in the program?


Credit: Google Images

Let me be clear: I love the concept of Spanish immersion and dual language classrooms. Some of my best college memories have come from volunteering in a Spanish/English dual language kindergarten class in Carrboro, NC two years ago. My goal is not to bash the program. I simply wish to paint its picture and pose the question of whether or not the program’s implementation should be reconsidered to be more inclusive of students who may not have had the means to become academically viable (via preschool, working with parents at home, etc) prior to kindergarten. Is there a better way?

While I was home I had the chance to visit with some family friends, and we discussed rising kindergarteners whom we knew and whether or not they would enroll in Spanish immersion. What I learned is that it will most likely again be comprised primarily of white children from financially stable, supportive parents. Are we providing equal opportunity for those students who come from homes where their parents couldn’t afford to enroll them in preschool or practice letters and numbers at home? Spanish immersion should grow and expand in eastern North Carolina for years to come, but we must ensure we are providing the same equal opportunity within the program that we do for “traditional” kindergarten classrooms. What do you think?


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