I received an email a little while ago. This is what it said.

Dear Dr. Barbara Zurer Pearson,

I am writing to you as a distressed parent of a kindergarten student currently enrolled in a new Spanish Immersion program in my town of West Linn, Oregon. I found your website and research while looking for anything that can help us impart how critical it is to have foreign language and immersion programs for young students.

Our school board decided last year to implement a Spanish Immersion program in two primary schools starting with the kindergarten class of 2009-10. We were beyond thrilled as you can imagine.

However, just last week we were informed via email from the deputy superintendent that it will be recommended to the school board to eliminate this brand new, and yet flourishing, program. We were told from the beginning that this would never be a budget issue, and yet that is what they are using against us now.

The school board will be meeting on Monday, June 7th to discuss, hear public testimony on, and then vote whether our students will be able to continue with their foreign language

I am writing to ask if you would consider writing an email letter to the members of the school board indicating how important foreign language programs are for our country’s children. I would greatly appreciate this show of support. I understand that this is a weekend and only allows two days, but this is my child’s future education at stake.

Thank you for all the work that you do.”

Here is the letter I wrote.

June 7, 2010

To the West Linn / Wilsonville School Committee:

Last year, you embraced a Spanish Immersion program for all the right reasons.  It enriches the educational experience and cultural perspective of the mainstream children who participate and sends an important message to speakers of minority languages that their language and culture are valuable.  It responds to President Obama’s call for every American child to be bilingual.  So, immersion education is in the interest of the nation, the community, and the children fortunate enough to have access to this forward-looking program.

Early immersion is also cost effective.  As you know, young children have special mental equipment for learning languages; high school students do not.  It is much more costly (and less successful) to make students wait till middle or high school for the opportunity to learn languages. On the other hand, language learning takes effort, even for the kindergartener—and above all, it takes consistency and continuity.

As a linguist and life-long student of children learning more than one language, I applaud the school system for establishing the program, but hope you will also have the determination to continue it.

I am alarmed to hear that you would consider cutting it after only one year.  We realize that budgets are tight everywhere.  But Miami’s experience with immersion schools demonstrates that they do not have to cost more than the non-immersion schooling they replace. However, they do take more organizational effort.  They are born of the strong commitment to providing the best education possible for our children.  That is an intangible without a price tag—one simply cannot buy committed parents, teachers, and administrators.  It is important not to squander them when you have them.

I urge you to maintain the current Spanish Immersion programs, and work with the parents and administrators to keep them on a par with other programs offered—not more privileged, but not less.


Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph.D.

Research Associate, Linguistics and Communication Disorders

Author, Raising a Bilingual Child (Random House, 2008)

Major Contributor, Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children (Multilingual Matters, 2002).”

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