New Mexico legislators assess Spanish dual-language program challenges

ALBUQUERQUE (NM) -- Jacqueline Powell worked hard with her fourth-grade classmates to create a letter in Spanish that detailed their year in class.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
13 June 2022 Monday 09:30
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New Mexico legislators assess Spanish dual-language program challenges

ALBUQUERQUE (NM) -- Jacqueline Powell worked hard with her fourth-grade classmates to create a letter in Spanish that detailed their year in class.

Powell explained the assignment in perfect Spanish, before she struggled to translate the words at the end of her sentence. In a mental effort, Powell, a 10-year-old charter school student, raised her forearms up to her temples. This made her large round glasses move in an upward and downward motion.

This struggle, which she fought each week at the New Mexico International School, Albuquerque, has helped her speak better than some of her high school classmates. She has been able to communicate in Spanish with her grandmother from Chihuahua (Mexico) and has created a secret language between herself and her mom, whose husbands and stepchildren can't speak Spanish.

Dual language programs are available in thousands of schools in the U.S. but New Mexico is the only state that allows students to learn Spanish.

Hispanic parents are passionate about dual language programs such as the one offered at the New Mexico International School. They want their children to develop cultural roots. Education experts also consider them the best way to help English learners excel in K-12 schools.

For lawmakers in New Mexico, which is the most Hispanic state in the country, the question is why New Mexico's dual-language programs are not being used by students who need them most.

In the coming weeks, legislative analysts will release a report that will highlight problems facing dual language programs and other multicultural programs. Jon Courtney, spokesperson for Legislative Finance Committee, stated that the report will examine decades-old trends like a lack of oversight from education officials, declining participation and a reduction of multicultural programs.

This report will also acknowledge that there is not enough information on the performance of language programs after the pandemic, which has lasted for two years.

Dual language immersion programs have increased from 126 in the years before the pandemic to 130 last year.

The programs are supposed to be evaluated by state officials every three years. Judy Robinson, spokeswoman for the department, stated that the New Mexico Public Education Department only conducted one in-person evaluation and visited one school during the last three years.

The department started a series forums for parents about the Hispanic Education Act. This state law informs multi-cultural programs.

Although there isn’t consensus among educators on how to teach young children languages, a New Mexico court determined in 2018 that dual language programs run well are the best for English learners.

Arizona's most popular alternative is to send the children away for remedial instruction.

New Mexico's dual language program participants are more likely to be English speakers. They make up 63% of the current school year's participants, compared to 53% last year.

The New Mexico International School in Albuquerque has approximately half its students who are Hispanic like Jacqueline and reflect the city's population.

Todd Knouse, principal of the school, stated that many parents want to reclaim the language.

English-speaking parents report that they find it easier to learn about dual language programs and jump through hoops to enter charter schools. These schools don't offer busing but are free.

It's almost a privilege to get your child into these programs. This is because it takes a lot research. Mary Baldwin, 34, said that it was difficult to find the right programs and the distance you are willing to drive. She also mentioned the (admissions) lottery. Her daughter is enrolled at the Albuquerque school.

She said, "And then there is so much shame that gets put on the Spanish language and the culture itself." "Bilingualism is an enormous strength, not only culturally, but also professionally.

Baldwin, a 10-year-old Honduran girl, immigrated to the U.S. in her tenth year. Her daughter, now 10, immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras at the age of 10. She is fluent in Spanish and can cook banana-leaf-wrapped Tamales with her Spanish-speaking grandmother thanks to the dual language program.

New Mexico's Spanish-speakers love the programs. They say that they improve their skills and confidence, as well as giving them the opportunity to learn a new language in an environment where everyone is treated equally. They also improve literacy and fluency in their native language.

Stephen Mandrgoc of the University of New Mexico, who studied bilingual programs in southwest Mexico and oversees Spanish colonial heritage programmes, said that it is generally advantageous to have two languages.

There are laws in New Mexico that protect students' rights when it comes to the languages spoken by New Mexico's Native American pueblos and tribes. Despite this, there are only two dual language programs in Native American languages, both in Dine and the language of Navajo.

Jemez Pueblo, a tribe that has a small population and cultural taboos that restrict the creation of language material, is facing a greater existential threat to its language. Santa Clara Pueblo, another tribe, believes that underinvestment is a problem.

New Mexico officials have allocated millions of dollars to fund curriculum projects. However, most of these funds remain unspended. Advocates point out that grants are limited in time and must be used within a specified period of time. This can range from less than one year to as little as one month before they are returned to the state.

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