Eliminating the immersion program is a cost too high, some ASD parents fear

Eliminating the immersion program is a cost too high, some ASD parents fear
Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 7:20 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - All four of Jeannie Carey’s children grew up attending the Spanish immersion program in the Anchorage School District.

According to Carey, her children got the chance to learn different subjects in two languages and work with native speakers. Her oldest child graduated from West High this past Spring after finishing the program. However, the rest of Carey’s children might not get to finish their Spanish immersion program.

ASD is considering cutting the program after students graduate from 8th grade to help make up for the $68 million deficit the district faces. It’s a heart-breaking topic for Carey’s family, who have grown up within the program. Right now, Carey said it’s a topic she has not even talked about with her kids.

“Honestly, it would be just so traumatizing, I don’t want to put this on them right now,” Carey said.

Carey said her kids were able to learn many key Spanish words growing up, but a lot of the language development, she said, does not occur until they reach high school.

“High school is where they really start to learn the mechanics of the language and learning it at a higher level, and all the grammar, and conjugation and everything that you don’t learn in the lower grades,” Carey said.

According to ASD, they are still planning on incorporating advanced language learning opportunities for students. The district said they plan to reconstruct their model of instruction delivery by offering Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate language programs for students. If a student surpasses those levels, the district said, they will look for dual college credit programs for students to participate in. But parents argue that these additional programs will not have the same impact to their children.

“For the students in general, I mean they deserve that — to go through high school — you’ve put all this work through K through 8th grade, and then to have it cut in high school is something that its just not acceptable,” ASD parent Brittany Strickland said.

Strickland attended the program as well growing up, taking part in the first class to start the program in 1991 at Chugach Elementary School. Now, as an OBGYN in Anchorage, Strickland said she uses Spanish nearly every day at work. It’s a skill set that has shaped a lot of her life and she is now making sure her two oldest children can have a similar experience by being in the program.

“Knowing what we know about how languages molds kiddos’ brains, and how it impacts them — not just academically — but also being so culturally competent, is something that you know we really can’t put a dollar sign on,” Strickland said.

Yet, the district said hard decisions are going to have to be made.

“If money weren’t any issue. I don’t think we would make these changes. But money is an issue so it’s causing us to make hard choices,” Dr. Kersten Johnson, the ASD Director of Secondary Education, said.

According to ASD, the cost of the immersion program in Elementary school is $2 million. However, the district said, they are not sure of how much money the high school portion of the program cost.

“The staff is currently doing a comprehensive analysis of the language immersion program, with a focus on capping emerging programs at Elementary School, and actual costs at HS if the program is changed. We hope to have that information for next Tuesday’s board meeting,” Jim Anderson, the CEO for the district, said in a statement.

Yet parents argue that the cut of these opportunities out of their students’ lives is a price too high for families

“I think just having these kiddos grow up and come back to our community is something that we really just need to push for in maintaining these language programs,” Strickland said.