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Only Oswego

Letter to the Editor: District 308 Should Consider Expanding Dual Language Program

Feb 19, 2015 05:22PM ● By Steven Jack

Nearly ten years ago, after a difficult divorce, I decided to move to the Chicago area from Minneapolis with my young son. As I weighed my job options, I knew one thing was certain -- I wanted to live in a school district that offered a language immersion program. You see, as most parents, I wanted to provide my child with greater opportunities than I had. 

My mother is an immigrant from Colombia, and my grandparents are South American and Puerto Rican with no English-speaking skills. As a child, I rebelled against the native language of my family, but despite my resistance, I was fluent in both English and Spanish at a very young age (because that's how children’s brains work). 

As I got older, however, I lost that fluency, refusing to speak Spanish and forgetting more and more of the language over time, until eventually, when my grandparents died years later, I could not tell them the words I had most wanted to say. Heart broken and embarrassed, those final words had escaped me. 

No, my son would not suffer such a fate. 

After much research and soul searching, I purchased a home in Oswego school district 308, where in 2005, an innovative new dual language (DL) program was at the forefront of an important movement. I moved into the district with the hopes that my son could get into the popular program through the district’s lottery system; I was willing to take my chances.

Thankfully, my son was selected. He started the DL program as a first-grader, immersed in the language I had tried to regain, the one that connected him to his roots and could open for him so many opportunities for friends, cultures, ideas, travels and even jobs. At the same time, his native Spanish-speaking classmates were learning English in the best way possible, with the same ultimate goals of fluency and opportunity. 

These last eight years have not always been easy. At times my son resisted, learning to read in a language he doesn't hear at home, struggling with various teachers and being bused to a school far away from home. But the reward, today, is a teenager about to enter high school with knowledge and skills that are enviable even for most adults. He is a child who values diversity and can communicate freely in two languages, like other children around the world, where it’s common for kids to speak at least two languages.

Today, as the district considers disbanding the DL program, districts all around us are starting their own programs, including Naperville, Yorkville and soon, Plano. In fact, a recent survey in Plano showed that 92% of incoming kindergarten parents would be interested in enrolling their student in the DL program. Here in Oswego, the program remains so much in demand that it continues to require a lottery for participation from English speakers. And studies have shown that when done right, the program does not cost more than "traditional" learning. So rather than eliminate DL, we should be asking ourselves how we could improve and expand it to allow all native Spanish speakers and even more native English speakers to participate. 

I would ask the school board, district leaders and citizens to continue to support this important program. It is admittedly flawed and needs improvement, but with increased interest in this type of learning and an influx of native Spanish speakers in the district, it most certainly has a place in this community.

As parents and leaders, we all should be asking ourselves how we can do better for our children. Dissolving a program that provides all of our children with such valuable language skills and cultural experiences is not the answer. 

Ivonne Furneaux, Oswego