Changing demographics in the Evanston/Skokie District 65 school system is having an effect on the demand for the district’s program for educating both English and Spanish-dominant students in the same classroom.
The program, known as Two-Way Immersion, or TWI, tries to achieve a balance of putting students from both language backgrounds into a single classroom so that they all become proficient in both English and Spanish.
Conceived as a program to help assimilate English-language learners by providing some instruction in their native language, the program has become popular with English-dominant families that want their kids to learn Spanish at an early age.
Those who test out as “English-language learners” are automatically accepted into the program, although some five to 15 percent opt out of it, largely because some Spanish-speaking parents feel that their students will learn English faster in an all-English-speaking classroom.
The problem, as explained to the District 65 Board at its meeting Monday night by Lauren Leitao, who heads the program, is that many of the students moving into the district are too proficient in the English language to qualify as English-language learners, yet they feel they would profit educationally from being in a classroom where instruction is provided in both languages.
Under current policy, these students would be subjected to the same lottery that enables English-dominant students to be admitted to the program.
TWI is provided to entering kindergarten students at Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington, and Willard elementary schools and lasts through the fifth grade.
The administration wants to modify the selection process so that these bilingual students would be considered ahead of non-Spanish-speaking students for admission to the program.
The pressure for easing the demand for TWI students who are not English-language learners could be accommodated by adding an additional “strand,” or classroom, to the TWI program, administration officials contend.
Board members Katie Bailey and Richard Rykhus were reluctant to add to the program because of its effect on other classes in the schools and because it is too early, in their view, to determine how many of the English-language learners will opt out of the program.
Accordingly, the board plans to review the issue in May and again in the fall before making a final determination.