Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Having a magnetic personality....

BRRSD is planning a Magnet School for ESL students K-3 at Bradley Gardens school, with a start date of 09/2011. You can read the presentation here. (I haven't read it yet - I know: read first, blog later, but this isn't so much a response to what they've proposed... today's blog is about my experience).

For the first time since the election, I'm really disappointed that I didn't get on the BOE! My personal experience would actually been relevant to the discussion. I studied foreign language immersion programs as part of my MA. I'm trilingual because I went to school in two foreign countries, but my most relevant background is that I have a bilingual child in the district!

It doesn't seem possible now, but it's true: my daughter entered BRRSD as a non-English speaker! We left the US when she was an infant and moved back to the US just before she started school. C hardly spoke any English and "her 5-year old alphabet" had a few extra letters (å ø æ). True, English was her "Mother's Tongue", but neither C nor N spoke much English. Albeit, she came from a very advantaged background, where she'd been read to in English since birth, seen tons of PBS kids programs, and she had visited America many times. But C only spoke very broken English when we moved here in mid-July of 2003.

If offered, would I have put C in such a program?

My kids' fantastic, fabulous wonderful... but not academic day care
I would have considered it carefully! Maybe they test the kids first - and with C's luck she would have fallen slightly outside of the acceptance parameters. C also came into the district with a "similar disadvantage" that presumably some other ESL kids experience: she had NO academic training in her pre-school. Socialization? Yes. Lots of tactile projects (beading, baking bread, building blocks, etc.) but no letters, no numbers, no writing.

Actually C is an argument against the target school because she did fine in kindergarten with NO ESL services. She struggled at first to find words and to understand her new friends but by winter break she spoke both languages fluently, and by the end of the year she had lost her "Swedish chef accent". Today her English is far superior to her first language. But she had the one thing most of these kids don't have: English-speaking parents. (English isn't her Dad's mother tongue, but it's our primary language at home. When we moved here in 2003, it was NOT our primary at-home language).

Did Dr. Seuss teach my kids
It will be very interesting to watch this play out from the sidelines. (Readers, you can insert your criticism that I'm asking this without doing my homework first...) Do the decision-makers know anything about second-language acquisition? Do they get the cultural implications of isolating ESL learners? What about the BOE- what are their opinions? Is BRRSD sending information to the target students' parents in their mothers tongues??? Are parents involved in the process? Or is this all being decided around a conference table behind closed doors as per normal? And, you are hearing an earful from Bradley Garden parents - but did BG have a say when their school was picked to host this magnet school?

In the end, C didn't need ESL training. Who taught her English? You're thinking her English-speaking loud-mouth Mom, right? Wrong: Her peers did! (Another argument against the magnet school).

I am looking forward to hearing the final details about the magnet school. I may have made several arguments against the program in today's blog, but I'm not totally against it. I am sure there will be a fair amount of discourse about the location of the school. Bridgewater is famous for a Not-in-my-backyard attitude about LOTS of things (dog parks, cell phone towers, mosques, COAH housing, AI, just to name a few off the top of my head.....). When I first heard about the plan a few months ago, I was very keen on the idea. After having discussed it over coffee this morning I'm a bit more skeptical. I want to reserve final judgment until I learn more. And, you know what - I can't wait. To me this is as interesting as knitting. So even though I can't vote on the matter, nor do I represent parents in any way, I can educate myself on our district's plans. And then voice an educated opinion, from very personal experience.

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