New Mexico Considers Challenges of Bilingual Programs

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ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Jacqueline Powell and her fourth grade classmates toiled over pencil and paper to write a letter in Spanish about what they did in class this year.

Powell explained the mission in perfect Spanish before struggling to translate the words to complete his sentence. The 10-year-old charter school student raised his forearms to his temples in a display of mental effort, rocking his large round glasses up and down.

This struggle, waged weekly at New Mexico International School in Albuquerque, put his speaking ability far ahead of some of his high school peers. It allowed her to speak Spanish with her grandmother, who was originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, and fostered a secret language between her and her mother, whose husband and stepchildren do not speak Spanish.

While bilingual programs are offered in thousands of schools across the United States, New Mexico is the only state where the right to learn in Spanish is enshrined in the state constitution.

Bilingual programs like that of the International School of New Mexico are championed by Hispanic parents who want their children to cultivate cultural roots. They are also considered by education experts to be the best way for English learners to excel in K-12 schools.

The question for lawmakers in the most Hispanic state in the country is why New Mexico’s bilingual programs aren’t being used by the students who need them most.

Legislative analysts are expected to release a report in the coming weeks that will highlight the challenges faced by bilingual and other multicultural programs. It will include an overview of decades-old trends such as lack of oversight by education officials, declining attendance and fewer multicultural programs, said the spokesperson for the Legislative Committee of finance, Jon Courtney.

The report will also acknowledge the lack of information on the performance of language programs after two years without comprehensive academic testing due to the pandemic.

The number of bilingual immersion programs has increased from 126 before the pandemic to 132 last year.

The New Mexico Department of Public Education has launched a series of forums for parents around the Hispanic Education Act, a state law that informs multicultural programs.

While there’s no consensus among educators on how best to teach languages ​​to young children, a New Mexico court in 2018 found well-run bilingual programs to be the “gold standard.” for English learners.

The alternative, more popular in Arizona, is to separate the children for remedial lessons.

In New Mexico, English learners make up a larger share of participants in bilingual programs. They represent 63% of participants in the current school year, compared to 53% last year.

At the International School of New Mexico in Albuquerque, about half of the students are Hispanic, like Jacqueline, and reflect the city’s population.

“It’s almost like a privilege-type experience to get your child into these programs because it takes a lot of research,” said Mary Baldwin, 34, whose daughter attends the school.

“And then there’s so much shame that’s placed on the Spanish language or the culture itself,” she said. “Some families may not realize that being bilingual is a huge strength, not only culturally, but also professionally. »

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