As Toledo’s Hispanic population continues to rise, Toledo Public Schools is considering a new school that would aid students whose primary language is Spanish.
The district is considering the formation of a Spanish immersion school, where lessons would be taught in English and Spanish. With more than 2,000 Hispanic students and several hundred who live in homes where little, if any, English is spoken, TPS is looking for ways to ensure limited English skills aren’t holding students’ academic achievement back.
“It can be an educational barrier,” TPS Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault said.
How the program would be formulated has not been determined. An option is a kindergarten through grade 2 school where most subjects are taught in Spanish, while literacy-related subjects are taught in English. That way, students improve their English skills while not falling behind in other subjects.
No plans have been made to open the school in the fall. Mr. Gault said time is too short before the new school year begins to develop a quality program.
Instead, TPS plans to pilot the idea at a Head Start location this year as part of the program it will run after having received the majority of federal funding for Toledo’s early-childhood education. But the school — which could be part of an existing school or a standalone program — is very much under consideration. District leaders held a forum in East Toledo earlier this month with leaders of the Hispanic community to discuss the project.
TPS is not alone in developing programs geared toward Hispanic students. For instance, a bilingual new charter school on Airport Highway called Toledo SMART is set to open in the fall.
If other schools effectively corner the market on the concept, that may change TPS’ calculus. Mr. Gault said the school would have to be revenue-neutral, meaning the district would need to bring in students not currently enrolled in a Toledo public school.
Mr. Gault said there is no rush to open a program; the district will make a decision in the spring, based on the pilot program’s success, community input, and interest levels.
Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, applauded TPS for reaching out to the Hispanic community and trying to address what has been a festering issue in Toledo.
The Hispanic population in Lucas County grew from 20,676 to 28,581 residents from 2000 to 2013, and that likely doesn’t include many undocumented immigrants, he said.
A lack of English comprehension puts students behind, and having parents who don’t speak the language means children can’t get help with their studies at home.
Mr. Velasquez knows the struggle well: When he started elementary school in the United States, he didn’t speak a word of English. Add the economic struggles many undocumented families have, and many students come to school facing challenges their teachers don’t understand.
“Just having someone understand you is half the battle,” Mr. Velasquez said.
Mr. Gault said some non-Hispanic families would be interested in the immersion school so that their children could be bilingual, and knowledge of Spanish is becoming more important in the United States.