Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell has announced he plans to introduce some form of Spanish language immersion program next year.
“It’s not a question of if we will, because we will have a plan in that area. We will be pursuing Spanish immersion as a school district,” Maxwell said at an Oct. 16 budget forum in Upper Marlboro. “Something will be rolled out in the next school year. What it will look like, I don’t know yet.”
Maxwell said the availability of funding would in large part determine the form and extent of the program.
Standard language immersion programs consist of students being taught all of their subjects in a foreign language, beginning in kindergarten.
PGCPS currently has two K-8 full French immersion schools, and a partial French immersion program at Central High School in Capitol Heights. The school system budgeted $859,445 for French immersion in the FY2013-14 budget.
Also, Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Hyattsville operates a “partial” Spanish immersion program, which is designated as a “theme” by the school system because it is not funded for district-wide access, according to school system information.
Community members were invited to come and share their priorities with the administration during the budget forum. The fiscal 2014 school system budget is $1.69 billion, and is an increase of $23.4 million over the prior year’s budget.
Of the dozen individuals who spoke during the meeting, more than half requested the school system implement some form of Spanish immersion program.
“It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that after English, Spanish is the language most often spoken in our community, the D.C. metro area, in the state and in the country,” said Gina Bowler of Upper Marlboro, a parent and co-founder of the grassroots language immersion advocacy group, My Bilingual Child. “We need Spanish immersion options that are accessible and attractive to families throughout Prince George’s County. That means more than one school, one model or one geographic area.”
Deanah Mitchell of Glenn Dale, parent of a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, said she would like to see dual language English-Spanish immersion where an equal number of native English and Spanish speaking students are taught subjects in both languages, beginning in kindergarten.
“I started taking Spanish in seventh grade, but it’s extremely difficult to become fluent in a second language when it is taught as one subject in schools,” said Mitchell. “Studies have shown that exposing children to a second language at an early age aids in the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”
Mount Rainier resident Jessica Ellis, a parent of two attending Mount Rainier Elementary, said she would like language immersion to be offered in neighborhood schools, rather than specialized program schools.
Currently, students enter the French immersion schools by lottery. This year, over 500 students applied to fill the 150 kindergarten seats at the two schools, according to school system officials.
“All of our students deserve to be proficient in a second language,” Ellis said. “Please invest in all our students, not just the lucky ones.”
Other parents advocated for increased funding for arts and Talented and Gifted programs.
Maxwell said the community forums are important to the development of his budget proposal.
“I’m the CEO, but this isn’t my school system,” he said. “It’s not my sandbox. It belongs to everybody. This is our school system, and so to hear from the public is something we should do.”