Spanish Immersion Popular in Minnesota Schools

Dual language immersion and bilingual programs are not limited to border states with large Latino populations such as Texas and California. They are gradually growing in number in states with much smaller Latino populations, such as Minnesota.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, in 2011-12 there were 56,751 Latino students enrolled in grades K-12 — or about 7 percent of the state’s public school students.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that demographic changes in some communities are contributing toward the trend. In Hopkins, Minn., the number of Latino students has doubled in the last decade. Districts with growing diversity such as Hopkins, Richfield and Roseville are starting two-way dual language programs that serve both English language learners  dominant in Spanish and English proficient students.

But they also are growing because of demand among parents and a desire to equip students with the skills to compete in a global society.

The newspaper reports that of about 85 immersion programs in the state more than half are Spanish-language, and most are based in elementary schools. The Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Networks keeps a list of language immersion programs in the state. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota conducts research on programs. It is one of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Language Resource Centers.

Parent Nelson Peralta, an immigration attorney who is bilingual, said the Minneapolis immersion program helps his sixth-grade son.

“It would be great to see these options across the state,” Peralta told the Star Tribune. “It would make Minnesota stronger.”

When writing about dual language programs, consider thinking outside the box. Explore dual languages programs in suburbs and smaller cities, and not only in the inner city. You may be surprised to discover which schools and school districts are more likely to embrace such programs.

Related Links:

– “Surge in immersion programs spreads,” Minneapolis Star Tribune. 

– University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

– Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network

– “Little Canada Elementary dual-language aim: smarter, bilingual kids,” St. Paul Pioneer Press. 

Minn. “TORCH” Program Supports Latino High School Students

Some years ago, a disturbingly high dropout rate among Latino students attending Northfield High School in Minnesota alarmed teachers and spurred them to take action. In 2004, the Latino graduation rate was 36 percent.

Minnesota Public Radio reports that the dropout problem resulted in the creation of a program targeting Latino students in 2005 known as  TORCH, or Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes, aimed at improving graduation and college enrollment rates.

The program was started with a $40,000 grant from the state’s Office of Higher Education, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It is funded with grants totaling about $100,000 per year, according to MPR.

TORCH leaders say the Latino graduation rate at the high school is now 90 percent and that so far 70 students participating in the program have graduated. Half of the alumni are enrolled in college. Program coordinator Beth Berry told MPR that she helped start program after feeling concerned that students were dropping out of school to work.

Students begin receiving individual after-school mentoring and tutoring, in addition to other programming. College students from the city’s St. Olaf College and Carleton College often mentor students. The program now has about 350 students, 50 of whom are in college. So far, 49 TORCH students have received a college degree or two-year certificate, MPR reports.

High school senior Frank Calvario told MPR News that the program helped improve his grades.

“It gives Hispanic students that sense of having control of what they’re going to do with their lives afterwards,” he said.

Other school districts are taking note. Just 20 minutes down the road, the Faribault school system is trying to replicate the model.

The students’ success is also drawing accolades elsewhere in the state. Minn. Sen. Al Franken stopped by to meet with students. In October, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an editorial praising the program.

Related Links:

– “Northfield program shrinks Latino achievement gap,” Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News. 

Northfield TORCH (Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes).

– “Editorial: Northfield closes achievement gap,” Minneapolis Star Tribune.