McPolin dives fully into dual-immersion
September 10, 2013
McPolin Elementary Principal Greg Proffit stood in the cafeteria addressing the fidgety students and their parents regarding the schedule of the night’s events in both English and Spanish. The area was then full of commotion as Proffit steadily directed families to their classrooms for Back-to-School Night presentations.
As students and parents filed into classrooms to meet with their teachers, the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) set up its registration table by the entrance of the school.
Betty Bush, PTO Treasurer, spoke with a father about upcoming fundraisers he could help volunteer for. Her son James is in second grade and her other son Samuel is in kindergarten, both at McPolin.
"This is the sign-up for parents where they can also purchase McPolin merchandise and make donations," said Bush. "The money raised funds everything the teachers can’t get through the education system."
According to Bush, the PTO raised $7,500 in mini-grants last year which provided teachers with supplies and materials. These donations are even more necessary now that McPolin is a full dual-immersion campus. They must now buy more Spanish-language books for those students who are native speakers, Bush said.
The dual-immersion program requires team-teaching. In the morning, one class is taught by one teacher in English and the other by another teacher in Spanish. In the afternoon, the classrooms switch out, which means that the two classes are taught in both English and Spanish all day.
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Cris Winner is a student teacher visiting from Montana State University studying the dual-immersion program. He hopes the "trend" will spread north and public schools in Montana will eventually offer what he believes is an inclusive program for otherwise alienated Spanish-speaking students.
"The kids that do speak Spanish at home are like little superheroes in here, because they help their friends out that are learning," said Winner. "Ideally, the goal is that everybody is benefitting."
Winner assists Spanish teacher Julie Edwards, more affectionately known as Maestra Julia. Edwards began teaching dual-immersion with a group of friends in Chicago 17 years ago and insists that it is about more than just basic education.
"We perceived it to be the best way to merge two populations and two languages and validate everyone as a person, showing the importance that more than one language and ethnicity exists in this world," said Edwards. "We can teach them so much more than just academics."
Edwards said that some parents did express concern about their native English-speaking children needing extra with the Spanish curriculum. Those parents were then able to register their children for the after-school program if they felt like they needed to.
The after-school program is an hour-and-a-half long, which includes 30-minute rotations. The first rotation is physical fitness, where students will either be with the P.E. teacher in the gym participating in structured activities or with their grade teacher getting exercise on the playground. The other two rotations are homework time and computer lab.
Joanna Hammel, the other half of Maestra Julia’s dual-immersion classroom team, is the first grade after-school program teacher. She helps students to catch up on their homework and gives them the extra attention parents feel their children need.
"I can see my own students and know what they are working on in the classroom, and I know what they need help on and exactly the way that I’ve taught it in the classroom," said Hammel. "I can access that prior learning and help them continue to foster developing skills."
The growing Hispanic population at McPolin is not only addressed by the teachers but by the parents involved at the school.
Beth Cummings, PTO Co-President, believes that the Hispanic population of the school goes underrepresented due to lack of parental involvement, something she hopes to change this year.
"Language is sometimes difficult, because not all of us speak Spanish," said Cummings. "We want to get someone on the board that is bilingual, and we are working on that."
Proffit, who is currently accepting nominations for the School Community Council elections to be held on Sept. 16, also believes that Hispanic representation is needed but presently in short supply.
"It is really important to have a Latino representative on the council, because we do not have that," said Proffit. "Sixty percent of our school is Latino, yet we have very little membership in the PTO and no members on the council."
Both Proffit and Cummings feel the Hispanic families need more adequate representation in order to fulfill McPolin’s mantra of "continuous improvement."
Because of this, Cummings expressed frustration over the Utah School Grading Program. It issued McPolin a letter grade of C, the lowest score in the Park City School District. She feels that the school grading program does not take into consideration the fact that McPolin is a dual-immersion campus.
"The demographics are a little bit different at our school, but if it’s based on academic growth, our kids are growing like crazy," said Cummings. "I don’t think they’re taking that into account, and it’s frustrating that they are not comparing apples to apples."
With the dual-immersion program making its way up through the grade levels at McPolin, Proffit, teachers like Edwards and Hammel, and parents like Bush and Cummings are optimistic that their school will one day receive the recognition it deserves.
"If it continues to be a little-known secret, that’s fine with us," said Cummings, "but we are going to be a great school."