Superintendent balking at school committee member’s desire to launch bilingual program

EASTHAMPTON — Five years after pioneering the idea of ​​a bilingual program in city schools, school board member Laurie García is more determined than ever to see it happen, but the superintendent says he won’t there isn’t enough community interest in the district to offer it at this time.

García first discussed setting up programming in the district with program director Julie Anne Levin five years ago.

“It has been my goal for many years to create a bilingual program in Easthampton, and it was actually part of my platform when I first ran for school committee,” said García, who during more than three decades has been a language educator. , having taught Spanish and English as a second language. She also ran after-school Spanish programs in the area in the 1990s.

Superintendent Allison LeClair, however, said while the program was worth exploring, it was not a topic identified as a priority by residents, based on community survey results.

“I will say that in general, generally speaking, the people of Easthampton are very happy with the education their children are getting,” LeClair said. “And I haven’t heard a lot of condemnations of certain aspects of the program that we’re in deficit. So I want to be clear about that.

In an interview with the Gazette, García spoke about the Holyoke and Amherst school districts, both of which have growing bilingual programs.

She said she was particularly impressed with Holyoke, which launched a bilingual program in the 2014-2015 school year at Metcalf School with two kindergarten classes and has since expanded to EN White School with the opening of a preschool class. It was also implemented at Kelly School for Kindergarten.

Holyoke offers families a program choice that gives students the opportunity to learn in both English and Spanish. Every day, students learn all school-level subjects in both languages.

In July, García and Levin attended a three-day virtual workshop hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Applied Linguistics on how to run bilingual programs.

García then happily announced at the August 30 school committee meeting that his long-held goal would soon become a reality for the district, as the bilingual program would launch in the fall of 2023 with the new kindergarten class.

Three weeks later, her tone changed after seeing that LeClair had not included the program at a Sept. 20 school committee meeting where she presented the district’s strategic plan, which formalizes the mission, the values, goals and objectives of the school district.

“I want the school board to know that Dr. LeClair feels the bilingual curriculum is not central to this strategic plan,” García said.

“You all know that many members of the community have contacted us for many years about our lack of quality foreign language teaching and faculty. We don’t have higher levels. We don’t have AP levels. We have eliminated the middle school curriculum and starting a primary curriculum would not be a burden on the budget, as it would be in lieu of a regular class. So I just want to bring this to everyone’s attention.

Spanish and French classes are only offered in high school.

LeClair said that the interest of parents does not justify the creation of a bilingual program. She noted that there were only five students learning English in kindergarten and that the number of ELL students in the district in recent years has not increased. A bilingual program, she said, might be something the district could consider once it reaches a certain threshold of students.

“We’re still considered on the bottom side of ELL,” LeClair said. “Do I think there are advantages to a bilingual program? Absolutely. Do I think it should be triggered at some point when we have registrations, which is ELL focused I think, maybe it is, but I could be wrong.

Bilingual benefits

García said most bilingual programs don’t have to be based on the number of students learning English as a second language. She cited communities such as Milton and Holliston, which have one-way immersion programs that include native English speakers or native second-language speakers, as most students are enrolled. In these types of classes, teaching takes place in two languages: English and the language of the partner.

“These communities appreciate that we have a global community, and speaking other languages ​​is important,” she said. “Multiple scientific studies have proven that children learn another language best before the age of 10, so our English speakers will benefit immensely from a program that also provides formal education in English and Spanish to our historical speakers of the city.”

García added that creating a bilingual program fosters a greater appreciation of other cultures in the global community. Continued participation showed increased cognitive abilities and even better test scores for bilingual students, she said.

Going forward, García and Levin will form a focus group to create a plan and timeline to establish and eventually launch a bilingual program in the district.

LeClair said in a Gazette interview that the district is committed to providing a variety of academic options for Easthampton students.

“Exploring ways in which we might expand language offerings will be part of a focus group’s work this year,” she said. “I look forward to learning more about our options in this content area through their research.”

García said she would also report back to the committee after speaking with Levin to set a date to present on the program at a future school committee meeting.

“We must be willing to educate our students to speak the second most spoken language in this country and in the world,” she said. “So I’m not going to give up and I’m not going to be told that I’m the only voice.”

Emily Thurlow can be contacted at