Last week the temperature dropped dramatically, and my first grade daughter broke out her warmest coat. When we got to school, she spied her teacher in the hall. She ran up and excitedly told her teacher that she was bundled up and ready to go out and play on the playground, and her teacher applauded her wardrobe choice. The entire conversation took place in German.
I’ve been a teacher at Waddell Language Academy for 10 years and a parent there for two. At this unique magnet school, kindergarten students begin full immersion in Chinese, Japanese, French, or German at age 5. By the time they finish eighth grade, they are fluent in that language and culture in addition to learning the standard curriculum that their peers in other schools study. Many of our students participate in exchange programs to other countries, where they are able to experience the practical application of their skills. They are truly prepared to be globally competitive in a world where borders no longer mean what they once did.
When our school board began work on student assignment, I was very happy to see that providing opportunities for more of Mecklenburg County’s students to attend magnet schools and develop specialized skills was a major priority. Last month the Goals and Guiding Principles for Student Assignment became official policy, and so did the board’s pledge to “intentionally expand and replicate successful programs and schools throughout the county in ways that increase equitable access to high-demand themes and instructional models.”
On Tuesday, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools will present its capital improvement plan to the board for approval. The plan calls for the creation of two K-8 language immersion schools, one in the northern part of the county and one in the south. However, both schools would be built according to the CMS standard K-8 building design, which is too small to accommodate Waddell’s current program. As a result, the existing language immersion school at Waddell – which serves more than 1,400 students – would have to be divided between the northern and southern zones. This division would weaken a program that has become a national model for how language immersion can be done effectively.
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I believe that our school district is committed to providing rich and varied opportunities to as many students as possible in an equitable manner. It would require a lot of time, intentionality and a major funding commitment from our county commissioners, but it is conceivable for CMS to really expand language immersion in our county. We can replicate Waddell’s model by offering four language options in two locations built on cohesive teams of superb teachers with emphasis placed on strong arts education, as well. We can utilize existing expertise to navigate the challenges of implementing effective language instruction and staffing a complex operation with teachers from all over the world.
But as we move forward, it is critical that we do so in a way that maintains successful programs at schools like Waddell. We must find a way to expand without dividing.
Parmenter is a 7th grade Language Arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy. He was CMS 2016 Teacher of the Year for the South Learning Community.