Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Madison Spanish-immersion school proposed

Nuestro Mundo Community School Project, a committee made up of educators and community members, has set a proposal before the Madison Metropolitan School District asking permission to start a Spanish/English-immersion charter school.

According to Debra Gill-Casado, a member of NMCSP and a social studies teacher at Madison Memorial High School, the aim of an immersion school is to begin teaching early education almost completely in the target language, increasing English education every year until the students are completely bilingual.

Gill-Casado said that ideally, half of the students begin as monolingual Anglophones, which means they would be primarily English speakers, and half begin as monolingual Spanish speakers.

“The French-Canadians have been doing this type of education very successfully, for 20 years,” Gill-Casado said. “Here, all of the students are surrounded by English from very early on. The Latino students learn quickly — many with very little English deficiency. Currently, in Madison, Spanish-speaking students receive Spanish instruction until they reach a level of English proficiency in the classroom. In the immersion school, they receive all instruction in both languages, and they can read and write equally in both. It’s much better.”

Gill-Casado says the immersion school is not intended only for Latino students.

“For Latinos, it builds on their strengths in the beginning,” she said. “For the Anglo students, in the end, they can read, write, and speak in two languages also — something they might not have been able to do otherwise.”

Ruben Medina, University of Wisconsin professor of Spanish and Chicano studies, agrees with Gill-Casado.

“Caucasian English-speakers would benefit the most. Latinos benefit from self-esteem,” he said. “But Caucasians who can speak Spanish have opportunities in jobs, communications, and it shows that they care. They are able to know about their neighbors, and they can have racial and cultural relations.”

In response to claims that students who graduate from bilingual high schools have deficient English skills, Medina said, “It’s important to teach English as well as Spanish, and not to favor one over the other. It’s about how you implement that pedagogical approach. With proper skills, there should not be a problem.”

However, according to Gill-Casado, English and grammar skills are not initially high compared to those of students attending traditional schools.

“By the fifth grade, both languages are equal,” she said.

Medina cited a common problem among Latino students as a language barrier between their parents and their teachers.

“Latino parents often don’t speak English,” Medina said. “They often have different work schedules than middle-class white parents. School meetings are not in Spanish — the schools need to make the extra effort. Five years ago, my son’s school meetings started being translated for the Hmong- and Spanish-speaking parents. They’re attending the meetings and following the discussions, sharing their ideas. Latinos and Mexicans want to learn English and integrate into society.”

One UW student, however, felt as though the responsibility of learning English was more that of the child’s parents.

“It’s through the parents that the child learns he needs to learn English. Too many Latino parents don’t care. They send their kids to school, but when they get back home they don’t care. They don’t implement study habits, because they don’t care,” sophomore Sergio Gonzales said.

Gonzales, whose family moved to the United States from El Salvador 11 years ago, is majoring in Spanish and education. His family speaks Spanish at home.

Gill-Casado said the Madison school district currently uses a transition style of English instruction, and Latino students are given language instruction until they are able to perform with their English-speaking peers in the classroom. She asserted that an immersion-style school might eliminate situations in which students with Spanish surnames, who do not need such help, are put into English programs.

“Institutional gaps do exist — even in Madison,” Gill-Casado said. “People try to identify students who may need help with the language, and, unfortunately, they are not always sensitive to differences.

“In order to give the classes a mix, students who still might need help with their English are often placed in my class, since I speak Spanish. This year, there were six of such students on my list, and I later found out that only three of them spoke any Spanish.”

The NMCSP plans on spending the next year writing its proposal for the Madison School Board, raising money for its project and addressing the concerns of School Board members.

In the fall of 2003, if the proposal is accepted, the committee will begin hiring and training teachers and faculty in order to open in 2004. Should the school’s funding be granted, it plans on opening as a pre-k through first-grade school, adding one grade each year until the fifth grade.

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