Bilingual program changes spark debate within Green Bay schools

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Changes to the bilingual program within the Green Bay Area Public School District are not sitting well with some bilingual teachers and parents. The administration, with approval from the school board implemented a change in time allocation to put more focus on literacy in the classroom.

A large percentage of students were not meeting state English literacy standards.

Sarah Pamperin, a 6th grade bilingual teacher at Edison Middle School, has concerns over recent changes to the program, saying while literacy skills are important, allocating less time to Spanish and more to English is not the answer for meeting state standards.

“I think that sometimes we get so afraid when those numbers come out after state testing, we get so afraid and we forget that we have to fall back on the data, the longitudinal data over years and years that shows that it takes kids takes up until middle school to outperform their monolingual peers, and so sometimes I think we get a little anxious about the fact that they're scoring lower,” said Pamperin.

Pamperin said some of her students and parents are worried the program will focus less on bi-literacy and becoming truly bilingual.

The school district said time allocation is only a guideline. It went from a 90/10 approach to a 70/30 approach. The guideline for third through fifth grades is 70 percent of instruction will be done in English and 30 percent in Spanish. For kids in kindergarten through second grade, the instruction is to spend 70 percent on Spanish and 30 percent on English.

“The reason why it's important to me is because the results of our current programming unfortunately were not as successful as we might have hoped, the proficiency level of our students in literacy is around 95% of our students are not proficient,” said John Magas, Associate Superintendent of Continuous Improvement.

Magas and teachers on board with the changes said while the time using each language is important, the goal is to close the gap, and have more students meet standards and become bi-literate.

“In my experience, as an English language learner, if I didn't have the opportunity to emerge in the culture, and become English proficient, I would not be almost learning my doctorate, but because of that, I can do this, and I want the same for my students,” said Aidee Hoffmann, a 4th grade bilingual teacher at Sullivan Elementary School.

Still, Pamperin has her concerns and plans to be a voice for others who feel the same.