I will be upfront and say I probably should have done more research so fill in the gaps if you know more. But the issues are in very sharp focus right now and it is a program that is going to reach a stress level soon.
(I confess I don't know much about foreign languages in SPS before the JSIS was created. I assume that most of the high schools and middle schools had at least one foreign language for decades. I am also aware that several elementaries had foreign language instruction either during the school day or after school with the costs being borne by PTAs or other groups.)
John Stanford advanced the idea of a foreign language immersion school before his death in 1998. He thought that a district with many students speaking many languages could be an asset and had put forth the idea of a foreign language immersion school. Backed by the School Board and under the leadership of principal Karen Kodama, the John Stanford International School opened in the Latona building in the fall of 2000.
When it started it was dual language immersion for either Spanish or Japanese (these languages were chosen in a survey of parents and business leaders). Additionally, it was one of the elementary Bilingual Orientation Centers for elementary students. That was primarily where the native speakers came from who became part of the two-way learning for other students.
In 1999, JSIS was one of five of the University of Washington's K-12 initiatives. The goals* were:
- Design imaginative new curricula with an international focus
-Link to Internet2 (new super-fast version of the Internet)
-Provide educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students
-Create an educational laboratory for faculty and student researchers
-Extend international curricula into middle and high schools
-Identify school partners around the world
(*This info is via the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University website. I don't know if the UW/SPS connection still continues. I see no evidence of it at the JSIS website.)
What didn't happen is a vision for a plan of how to expand or, more importantly, where these students would go to continue this learning for middle and high school. It may have seemed important just to get the school off the ground but this lack of planning beyond a few years didn't help the program.
The immersion at JSIS is in core subjects, like math and science, for half the day. The teachers are usually native speakers of the immersion languages. In addition, there are generally IAs (Immersion Assistants) who are also native speakers who assist the teacher. The BOC has long since moved on.
The start-up costs for a foreign language immersion school (beyond finding native speakers who can teach) is around $75k-100k (based on district information).
Besides JSIS, there are these elementaries:
- Concord International School - they have a dual two-way program in Spanish- English. Meaning, the native speakers of English help/are helped by the native speakers of Spanish.
- Beacon Hill International School - they have three programs. These are Spanish/English Dual Language Immersion, Chinese Mandarin/English partial Language Immersion and an English Language Immersion. BH receives federal funding for the Chinese Mandarin classes.
- McDonald (which has not yet received its "international school" naming). They offer Spanish and Japanese. It only has foreign language immersion in K and 1st and will roll-up each year. The current students in 2nd-5th have a regular ed program with some foreign language "exposure".
Beacon Hill's tentative pathway is Mercer Middle and then Franklin High School.
Concord's pathway will be Denny and then Chief Sealth High School.
I don't find clear information about how foreign language immersion plays out in middle or high school at any of the schools' web pages.
1) These programs are not accessible in any way to all students. That such desirable programming remains available only to those who live in those neighborhoods seems wrong. I think some on the Board know this but have been repeatedly told by Enrollment that these schools must remain neighborhood schools for the NSAP to work.
2) Costs. These schools have higher costs than other schools. The main one is huge - the IAs. (To note, with the IA's, the student to teacher ratio goes down to 14:1. Lower class size, a huge bonus.)
I know JSIS and McDonald have the IAs. Beacon Hill and Concord do as well but I don't see fundraising towards it. I suspect there are Title One dollars for this effort.
From McDonald's website:
An Immersion Assistant is a full-time presence in every immersion classroom. He or she is a native speaker of Spanish or Japanese.
The language immersion teaching model we’ll be using at McDonald is largely based on the system developed at John Stanford. There, they've demonstrated:
Immersion Assistants are integral to kids’ success learning Math and Science in a foreign language.
IAs are part of the model. In the words of one John Stanford parent, “The IAs make the program possible.”
But IAs are not funded by the school district. Parents raise this money. (bold mine)
Some of these are Immersion Interns, rather than Immersion Assistants. The interns are teachers from foreign countries who come to the US for a year to teach. The interns are paid through their sponsoring program with the PTA funding living expenses (around $5k) and housing with school families.
How much money? It costs out to $1,000 per student. Last year McDonald raised $95k just for this purpose (and I'd be willing to be they raised more for other needs). This year they are attempting to raise - drumroll please - $300,000 just for IAs.
From their website:
If every family could afford to give $1k per student, we would meet our goal. But we understand this level of giving is not possible for all families.
They also have a Q&A where one question is "Will We Do This Every Year?" - the question is never answered directly but the wording suggests, yes, it will have to be done every year.
Clearly, not everyone who wants foreign language immersion for their child can access it in our district.
The fundraising concern is really one of mixed signals and I have to wonder how it plays out at the schools who do pay for IAs. As a former PTSA co-president, I would have a hard time with supporting this kind of staffing. It is a HUGE amount of pressure for a PTA to have to take on, year in and year out. It is a HUGE amount of pressure for parents.
Look, I'm sure for some parents giving $1-2k per year for a foreign language immersion program is cheap compared to a private school. But the problem is, this is a public school and no parent should have any pressure to give money for what really should be a district cost, not a parent one.
To note, Duggan Harmon told Sherry Carr at an A&F meeting a couple of months ago that parents were told they did not have to fund these positions. But clearly, if you want the best outcomes, you need the IAs.
If this program were to expand to a school that was not in a position to fund IAs, either privately nor through federal dollars, then that school would have to forego what the other schools have in support of their programs. Those new schools' students would have a lesser experience because of the lack of IAs.
That the district started down this road and now has differing programs - some have two languages, some have one, some have native speakers in their schools and some do not - and passes costs onto parents for needed supports for the program is an example of lack of planning and vision.
This was all good and well when it was one school started to honor the memory of a lionized leader who died. But it wasn't a name put on building or a plaque in his honor. It was a program and someone should have costed this out down the road and asked what the district projected for the future.
Well, the future is upon us and I have to wonder if each program will look different and end up in the Spectrum camp where you have differing programs at each site.
It will be worth hearing the discussion at the Work Session on International Education on Wednesday before the Board meeting.