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May 15, 2013

Superintendent wants to 'bring the world' to County students

TARBORO — Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent John Farrelly wants to bring the world to Edgecombe County students.

“Why not? Why not bring the world to Tarboro?” Farrelly asked the board of education at a May 6 work session. He began his presentation by asking the board to “step back and not think about what a traditional classroom looks like and to think a little more globally.”

Farrelly discussed the idea of bringing a Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program to the district to provide students with a global education. Farrelly traveled with a team from the district to two elementary schools in Cumberland County that have the VIF program and said he was impressed with the students’ level of academic participation.

“You would be amazed at the level of engagement that we saw in 6-year-olds who were speaking fluent Spanish,” he said. That particular school is a “dual immersion” school, meaning the students receive instruction in both Spanish and English. The dual immersion model begins in kindergarten, where students receive 90 percent of their instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English. By the second grade, 75 percent of instruction is in Spanish.

The other elementary school Farrelly visited is a “global school,” which places a teacher from a different country in each grade level. Farrelly said the elementary schools he visited have a student makeup similar to ECPS – 70 percent African-American and 90 percent of the students at the poverty level, so he believes the global model he saw in those schools would work in the district.

“Another reason that this is a fit for us is these kind of programs that we want to bring are more hands-on, a lot more problem solving types of instruction and curricular activities are a part of these programs. That fits with the Common Core, because the Common Core and the new assessments are more driven by problem solving and the use of higher-order thinking skills,” said Farrelly. The Common Core is the new curriculum that was implemented in North Carolina Public Schools beginning this school year.

The superintendent would like to combine the “dual immersion” and “global school” models to create an innovative program in the district. One of the VIF teachers will come from China, and Farrelly wants to offer Mandarin Chinese to students as an enhancement course.

Farrelly pointed to research that demonstrates students thrive in dual immersion teaching environments. In their book, “Dual Language Education for a Transformed World,” Wayne P. Thomas and Virginia P. Collier, scholars at George Mason University, cite the following research results:

Title I-eligible students in dual language score higher on state tests as well as norm-referenced test than Title I-eligible students in the English mainstream classroom. (Farrelly noted that ECPS has 10 Title I schools).

Significantly fewer behavioral referrals are experienced in dual language classes than in English mainstream classes.

Learning in two languages develops unactivated brain areas and increases creativity and problem-solving skills.

ECPS would begin the global/ dual immersion program in one pilot elementary school. Parents of kindergarten students would have the option to enroll their children in the dual immersion program or enroll them in a regular classroom with English instruction only. Parents of dual immersion students would not be required to learn Spanish.

“I definitely think in our changing landscape that this is going to give parents a choice,” Farrelly said. “This really could be a difference maker, something that we currently can’t provide.”

Board members voiced their approval of the proposal.

“We need something we’re really excited about right now. The timing couldn’t be better,” said Board chair Ann Kent. “So many of our children have never been outside of Edgecombe County. This is going to be an excellent opportunity for them.”

Board vice chair Evelyn Shaw Wilson also liked the global schools proposal.

“I think it’s a super idea,” she said.

“The board is behind innovation and raising the bar. I appreciate the board’s support,” Farrelly said.

Kent agreed with Farrelly’s thought that the global program will raise student proficiency levels, particularly in language arts.

“When you learn a foreign language, you learn the structure of language, and that’s something our children desperately need,” she said.

Farrelly’s suggestion was for the board members to set up visits to the VIF elementary schools in Cumberland County, with the ultimate goal of implementing the program in ECPS in the 2014-2015 school year, after 15 months of consideration and planning.

“We’re going to be very diligent as we move through time in doing this the right way,” said Farrelly. He believes that the global/ dual immersion program will take ECPS from “good to great” and his ultimate goal for the district is to have “great schools at all settings.”

 

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