UNCW to host free informational programs on Spanish immersion

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UNCW's Spanish department will screen 'Speaking in Tongues,' a documentary about language immersion education, as part of two events on the topic. Courtesy image.
UNCW’s Spanish department will screen ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ a documentary about language immersion education, as part of two events on the topic. Courtesy image.

As New Hanover County education officials prepare to move Spanish immersion to a new school, UNC-Wilmington is offering informational sessions aimed at highlighting the benefits of dual language programs.

The first of two events – set for Saturday, Feb. 13 – is a free screening of the documentary, “Speaking in Tongues,” followed by a discussion of immersion education led by local Spanish professors Dr. LJ Randolph and Dr. Amanda Boomershine.

Then, on Thursday, Feb. 18, UNCW hosts Dr. Kim Potowski, associate professor of Spanish linguistics and director of the Spanish Heritage Language Program at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Potowski’s theme, “No Child Left Monolingual,” will tackle why and how to promote multilingualism in the U.S.

Friday was the deadline set by the local district for parents across the county, including those with students currently at Forest Hills Global Elementary School, to give signed intent to enroll their children in Spanish immersion at the newly created International School at Gregory. Intent forms were sent home with immersion students on Jan. 28.

Gregory, a magnet school whose focus had been a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum, will be the new home for immersion, following a decision in December by a divided New Hanover County Board of Education to move and expand the program. Gregory is about two miles west of Forest Hills. The relocation, part of sweeping reforms to the district’s struggling magnet schools, passed 4-3, with members Lisa Estep, Tammy Covil and Bruce Shell dissenting.

As part of the change, Gregory will become a K-8 school for immersion and English as a Second Language students across the county. The STEM curriculum will be phased out over the next five years, as current students there advance out of the elementary grades.

The district hosted an informational session last month for parents interested in the recently expanded program.

The film screening next Saturday, organized by UNCW’s Spanish department, aims to further illuminate how the curriculum works and how it impacts students. The 2009 PBS film, “Speaking in Tongues,” follows four students of different ethnic backgrounds as each learns a different language and highlights the worries, risks and rewards inherent in the alternative educational approach.

The event begins at 10 a.m. at New Hanover County Public Library’s Northeast branch, 1241 Military Cutoff Road.
Potowski’s lecture at UNCW’s education building, Room 162, at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 18, will mirror a TEDx Talk she has given on the subject. With a host of books, scholarly articles and awards under her belt, Potowski has become an advocate for the advantages of bilingual education, as well as teaching children in their heritage language.

According to Potowski’s research, English-speaking children who are immersed in a foreign language achieve at the same or higher levels as their peers in a traditional classroom setting, while becoming fluent in a second tongue. Click here to see her TEDx Talk at the University of Chicago.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.