‘We need to step back and rebuild it’: Summit School District principals push for pausing Spanish learning in 3 elementary schools | SummitDaily.com

‘We need to step back and rebuild it’: Summit School District principals push for pausing Spanish learning in 3 elementary schools

Elementary school principals say the current system for teaching Spanish in non-dual language schools needs to be overhauled. Board members will vote on whether to pause lessons for next school year while a revamped program is developed.

Frisco Elementary School is pictured on Nov. 12, 2021. The elementary school is one of three in the district that does not offer dual language programming but does support some Spanish classes. However, district leaders have said the lessons are flawed and need to be overhauled.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

Three Summit School District elementary principals are asking the district’s Board of Education to consider pausing Spanish teaching for next school year while they work out a plan to overhaul their classes. 

The pause would go into effect for Breckenridge, Frisco and Upper Blue Elementary School. Unlike Silverthorne and Dillon Valley Elementary School, these three schools do not offer dual language programming. Dual language schools teach core subjects such as literacy, math and social studies half in English and half in Spanish. 

But at Breckenridge, Frisco and Upper Blue elementaries, Spanish is taught as a “special,” meaning students only receive about 2.5 hours of Spanish every other week. 

“That’s nothing. You really need to dive in and have a lot of time and a lot of input to really learn the language,” said Breckenridge Elementary School Principal Ann-Mari Westerhoff. 

Principals remarked that students often aren’t able to retain the material between each class, leading to frustration from both them and teachers. Staffing is also a concern, with many elementary school teachers in the district having to split their time between two elementary schools. That, coupled with staff turnover, puts strain on running Spanish classes that principals say aren’t effective. 

“In my seven years as principal, I have had now five different teachers for this class,” said Upper Blue Elementary School Principal Robyn Sutherland. 

If the school board were to pause Spanish instruction in the three schools, principals said they would use the time to work on an improved plan to better teach Spanish to students outside of the dual language program. 

The goal, principals said, would be to prepare all elementary students in the district for the dual language options offered at Summit’s middle and high schools as well as to put them on a path to successful Spanish testing through the International Baccalaureate program. 

On top of increasing the amount of exposure that students have to the material, speaking Spanish must also become “embedded in the culture of our school” outside of class, said Breckenridge Elementary School President Todd Kirkendall. 

“It’s not good enough right now. We need to step back and rebuild it,” Kirkendall said of the current structure in his school. 

With around 40% of the student body identifying as Hispanic, supporting bilingual education has been a top priority for school district officials. 

Superintendent Tony Byrd, who supports a revamp of Spanish education in the three elementary schools, said the effort is not meant to expand the dual language option to those schools. 

“It takes a lot of staff and programming to put that together. I think it would be very challenging to try to do that in every school, frankly,” Byrd said. 

Rather, it’s meant to ensure that all elementary students, regardless of where they go, can succeed in a future dual language track, Byrd added. 

The effort is “to try and get Spanish off the ground starting in kindergarten, for example. Really building Spanish in schools that don’t have dual language programs would ensure that everybody has exposure to Spanish,” Byrd said, adding, “What we do now is really so far away from any real research-based practice for learning a language.” 

Principals said if a pause were to go into place, they’d hope to have a new strategy ready to go by the 2024-25 school year. Byrd said the findings of an audit for the district’s dual language schools, set to finish this fall, could reveal ideas and solutions for such an overhaul. 

While board members signaled they were largely supportive of revamping the classes, they said it would be important to find a way to provide support for families while that is underway. 

“In this interim year, has there been any consideration given to extensions, resources, programs that students and families can be pointed to if they want their children to continue to learn Spanish?” asked board member Julie Shapiro. “Is there something that we can do for those who might be concerned about losing that opportunity?” 

Board member Consuelo Redhorse said, “While it’s a pause, it sounds like an exciting time to rework world language on an elementary level.”

But she added that the schools should set clear goals for what they want to achieve and that principals should be “keeping an eye on those benchmarks.” 

Board members are set to vote on the measure during their May 31 meeting. 

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