Orange County Schools may add a new dual-language program for preschool students at New Hope Elementary School.
On April 6, the Orange County School Board of Education approved a budget expansion request that — if approved by the Board of Orange County Commissioners — would allocate $40,000 to the program.
Superintendent Monique Felder told Board members that the program would expand New Hope Elementary’s existing dual-language program. Initiated in 2018, the program provides students an equal amount of instruction in English and Spanish.
But Felder said expanding the program meant replacing a current pre-K classroom where students only learn in English. The money would cover costs associated with procuring a Spanish-speaking teacher and purchasing dual-language resources.
Board member Matthew Roberts said the district would convert an existing English-speaking classroom into a bilingual classroom, which he said would help satisfy the high demand among parents for bilingual education.
“There will be some cost to get bilingual books into that classroom, but it'd be a one time cost,” he said. “So you're not looking at that much money.”
Under the program, Roberts said a bilingual teacher would switch between Spanish and English throughout lessons, allowing for both native English and Spanish speakers to learn some of each language.
“Let's say Tuesday is Spanish day. The majority of the class is going to be in Spanish for every student,” Roberts said. “The next day, the majority of the class would be in English for every student so that, if you're a native English speaker, you're learning Spanish at a very early age so that by the time you finish, hopefully you'll be bilingual in Spanish and English.”
Roberts said the current English-speaking teacher would be able to work in another English-speaking classroom.
“With our turnover on some of our teaching slots, we do not anticipate having to lay off the current teacher there,” he said. “There will be another opportunity in an English-speaking class for that teacher.”
Only Board members Sarah Smylie and Tony McKnight voted against expanding the program.
Though she said she’s excited for the program, Smylie said she doesn’t think this is the right year to expand it.
“When I think about us coming into school next year, I really think it’s going to be important to focus on excellence in what we’re doing and in re-establishing what we’re doing,” she said.
Roberts advocated to expand the program even though the pandemic’s economic damage might leave the district unable to secure as much funding for the upcoming year.
“We already have the classroom set up,” he said during the meeting. “If it’s just a matter of securing the teacher, I think we should do it.”
He said bilingual education offers students better opportunities to participate in an increasingly globalized world and become a “world citizen.”
“If I had a child who was starting kindergarten or pre-K, I would be trying to get my child transferred into it for that very reason,” he said. “It's not going to be the same as it is when I grew up — that you're not going to stay in the United States, that even if you work for a United States company, you're going to have to go overseas to work with other nationalities.”
Roberts said many parents of preschoolers in New Hope Elementary support the dual language program.
“We're meeting demand that parents are saying that they want,” he said. “If it turned out that the parents said, ‘Hey, we don't want this,’ then we should have backed off. But in this particular case, parents see the benefits for their children for this.”
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