CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article said kindergarteners who do not wish to be part of the program will likely be assigned elsewhere. Only current kindergarteners will have this option to join the new program or move to a new school next year. The story has been updated with the correct information. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
Change is coming to Glenwood Elementary after the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education voted to convert Glenwood into a magnet school with an emphasis on its Mandarin language immersion program.
The program, which teaches students half of their curriculum in English and half in Mandarin, will become the central focus of the school.
An increasing amount of students have entered the Mandarin track in recent years, which has led to overcrowding at the school, said Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for the district.
“Over the course of the years, we’ve added a new class each year as those kids have moved up,” Nash said. “There’s no more classrooms, so you’ve got to make some tough decisions with what you do with it.”
Although there had been concerns about further overcrowding at Glenwood this year, traditional enrollment fell by over 150 students, according to a Board of Education report. The district said it does not know why this drop occurred or whether it is part of a pattern.
Even so, some parents feel that the Mandarin program diverts resources from other necessities in the district
“I think the Mandarin program receives a disproportionate amount of funding and attention and is not best for the overall school district when so many other services are not being provided,” said one Culbreth Middle School parent through an opinion survey conducted by the district.
Kristie Mather, the co-chair of the Mandarin Advisory Committee, has a daughter in the Mandarin program and said she sees enormous benefits for kids.
“Kids who are in language immersion programs perform better on their fifth grade EOGs in math as well as English, as compared to kids who are in a non-language immersion program,” she said. “These kids are getting less time in English, and they are still performing better in English.”
A 2010 report presented to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction cites three years of research that support the advantages of language immersion.
“Findings strongly suggest that there are qualities to North Carolina’s two-way dual language programs that confer greater educational gains in reading and math compared to non-dual language education,” the report said.
Mather said even though Glenwood is becoming a magnet school, students in first grade and above who are currently attending the school and are not enrolled in the Mandarin program will be able to complete their time at Glenwood.
However, current kindergarteners will have the option to join the program or move to a new school next year.
“Having the dual language become the priority for this school would be heartbreaking for the rest of us,” a Glenwood parent said through the district’s opinion survey.
Nash said the district recognizes the concerns of parents regarding the decision.
“There will have to be some reassignment, and that’s obviously a very delicate issue and one that’s very meaningful to a lot of the parents,” Nash said.
He emphasized the school district is doing everything in its power to minimize negative impact on students and families.
“Please know that any decisions involving the assignment of students will be very carefully considered,” Nash said in an emailed statement. “We will ensure that any school receiving students and families is fully prepared to welcome and provide them with a quality school experience.”
One other potential benefit of this change for the school district relates to a law passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2017 that places caps on class sizes from kindergarten through third grade, with some exceptions.
Dual-language immersion programs are currently exempt from these class size requirements.
Another proposed solution was to relocate the Mandarin program to another school, but a CHCCS Board of Education report said this might have displaced even more students than the current plan will.
According to the report, the district says it can limit the amount of students moved to no more than 45. Only current kindergarteners may have to relocate since first graders and up will be able to finish their traditional track at Glenwood, while new students will be assigned to other district schools
For now, Nash said the district is working on developing a specific plan that includes details on how Glenwood’s transition will take place.
Mather said she hopes the process will result in the best possible outcome for all current and future Glenwood students.
“It’s really important to us that these be positive experiences for all the kids at Glenwood,” she said. “It’s our kids. And we all really care about our kids.”
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