FAYETTEVILLE — A group of Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) administrators on Thursday visited a dual immersion and “global” school in Cumberland County – W.H. Owen Elementary and New Century International Elementary. “Global schools” will be the topic of discussion at a board of education meeting at 6:30 p.m. today in the central office board room at 412 Pearl St.
The district has been discussing a “global schools” initiative, under the leadership of Superintendent John Farrelly, for a year.
“Taking visits to successful schools allows community stakeholders to see best practices in action,” Farrelly said. Thursday’s trip also gave administrators a chance to ask school principals and students questions about the program.
Owen has about 500 students and half the student population is in the Spanish dual immersion program. Students in the program receive instruction almost entirely in Spanish in kindergarten, with the amount of English instruction increasing each year.
Owen Principal Monica Carter said dual immersion students scored approximately 35 percentile points higher than the school’s traditional students on End-of-Grade tests for the 2011-2012 year.
“It has a huge impact on student achievement,” Carter said. “All children can do this. When given the opportunity, they can rise to the challenge.”
ECPS Public Information Officer Kristian Herring said before the trip, he was skeptical about young students’ comprehension and fluency in Spanish, so he tested the students’ knowledge.
“I challenged quite a few of them, asking them questions in Spanish and every single student was able to answer me correctly using complete sentences and thorough responses,” Herring said. “I was floored!”
The administrators asked the students whether they liked Spanish or English better, and they all responded: “Spanish!”
“I like the accent, the way that the words are pronounced,” said fourth-grader Jaylan White. He said he is teaching his mother how to speak Spanish. White’s favorite subject is math.
“The reason I like math so much is because it’s hard. It’s testing me,” White said.
Lauren Prudenti, administrative intern at Tarboro High School, said it was “energizing to hear elementary school students discussing complex mathematical word problems in a second language.”
“More inspiring was witnessing the confidence of students as they described the importance of their bilingual education,” she said.
Stocks Elementary School Principal Erin Swanson also said she was impressed with the “poise and confidence” of the students.
“It was evident that challenging students to master a foreign language had a positive impact on their character development and critical thinking skills,” Swanson said.
When learning another language, students are activating “parts of their brain that are not normally as active,” said Kevin Smith, manager at Visiting International Faculty (VIF), ECPS’ partner in the global education initiative.
“Research indicates that it (dual immersion) is a model that drives academic achievement. We see that in the results. Across the board, our students score 11 percent higher in math and 22 percent higher in reading,” Smith said.
New Century International Elementary, a school of 765 students where 30 percent of students are in military families, started a dual immersion program in Mandarin Chinese this school year. Principal Felix Keyes said 48 students are in the program and they receive all of their instruction in core subjects in Mandarin Chinese.
“By the time they’re in fifth grade, they will be bilingual,” Keyes said. “A lot of jobs are moving to China and we want our kids to be able to compete for those jobs when they get to be adults.”
At New Century, students at each grade level study a different region of the world, and teachers from various countries bring their culture to the students. While learning the Common Core curriculum, students “compare and contrast” their lives to those of students in different part of the world, Keyes said.
Keyes grew up in an Army household and said it made him realize the need for children to be exposed to different cultures.
“I was learning Japanese at 5, I was learning German at 10. I think it is really important that we give our kids that opportunity, too,” Keyes said.
“By the time the kids are in fifth grade, they’ve gone around the world with me,” said art teacher Thelma Gaines. She said as students progress in the program, she can see them becoming more accepting of differences in others.
“It’s not so scary to not be the same,” Gaines said. “It’s empowering. We’re empowering them.”