A new parents group is hoping Prince George’s County Public Schools will say “si” to creating a Spanish immersion program.
Gina Bowler of Upper Marlboro and Delores Millhouse of Bowie met while taking a weekend Spanish class for preschoolers and parents offered by a private company in Prince George’s County. The two decided to advocate for more Spanish-speaking options in the school system.
“We discovered we had a very common interest in having our children learn Spanish as a second language, and we were hungry for resources to help us accomplish that,” Bowler said.
Language immersion is a style of education in which students, beginning in kindergarten, are taught their core subjects by teachers speaking a foreign language.
Millhouse and Bowler have created a website, www.mybilingualchild.weebly.com, along with a Twitter account and a Facebook page, for parents to learn more about Spanish immersion and language options in the area.
They also have begun a survey on their website to gauge interest in Spanish immersion. So far, 70 surveys have been completed, and more than 95 percent of the respondents have been in favor of Spanish immersion, Bowler said.
Currently, the group consists of just Bowler and Millhouse, but they hope the My Bilingual Child website will help inform and recruit other parents who have an interest in bilingual education.
Students who begin to learn a new language between birth and pre-adolescence are more likely to develop native-like pronunciation and more likely to be fluent in the language if they continue their studies through high school or beyond, according to the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Center for Applied Linguistics.
Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., public schools both offer Spanish immersion programs; French immersion is the only language immersion specialty program offered in Prince George’s.
Robert Goddard French Immersion in Seabrook and John Hanson French Immersion in Temple Hills currently offer programs for kindergarten through eighth grade. More than 500 students applied to fill the 75 kindergarten seats at the two schools this year, according to school system officials.
Bowler and Millhouse said they would like to see Spanish immersion added to Prince George’s families’ options.
Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Hyattsville offers partial Spanish immersion, meaning subjects are taught in both English and Spanish. But, as a neighborhood school, only students who live within the school boundaries are eligible.
“We want options for our children,” Millhouse said. “I don’t want to move out of the county and put money into another county. I like Prince George’s County.”
County school board chairman Segun Eubanks said the school system is committed to creating a Spanish immersion program and expanding French immersion, but additional work is needed for funding, placement and teacher recruitment.
“If at all possible, we’d like to begin planning in the 2014-15 school year,” Eubanks said. “It’s too early to put an exact time frame down, but we’re not talking about five years down the line. We’re trying to get something operational as soon as possible.”