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.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. TWI comment — explanation, please

    I am not certain what two Board members meant by the effect on other classrooms. 

    I have had extensive exposure to the TWI program and have seen the tremendous benefits for native Spanish speakers, transitional Spanish to English speakers and native English speakers. 

    Language acquisition for the students is the focus. But so much more is accomplished. The children on the TWI program become friends and so do their families. This may sound ho hum but it is not. Many parents of the native Spanish-speaking children speak little or no English. I have seen these family relationships develop into deeply meaningful attachments that help both sets of parents better understand each other's language, culture, values, situations, emotions, etc. I have seen native Spanish-speaking parents become more fluent in English, become more involved in the Evanston community, take classes to benefit their job prospects and so much more — because they made these important connections to other parents through the TWI program. I too have been enriched by these relationships. 

    TWI benefits the students. TWI benefits their entire families.  TWI benefits the entire Evanston community. So let's get it on the table…what concern are these two school board members talking about?

    1. Clearly District 65 is Behind the Curve in Language training

      It is clear that there is both a need and a demand for more language training at the earliest ages for Dist. 65 students.

      In the European Union most countries have compulsory foreign language training in elementary school and over 60% of middle school students are studying TWO foreign languages.  EU countries are also providing language training at earlier and earlier ages.


      Because of the importance of Spanish to the US and this region, it should be compulsory for all students beginning in kindergarten.  If students come into the district with accellerated Spanish skills perhaps a third language like Mandarin, French, German, Russian, or Portuguese could be offered. 

      Middle school would continue with Spanish and a secondary language.



      1. we’ve heard this before

        Everyone has their pet subject that MUST be increased/taught in school.  Arts.  Cursive.  STEM.  Language.  Recess.  Gym.  They all have significant benefits to our kids.  The problem that there simply isn't enough time and resources.

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