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Forest Glen Parent Education Conference:  Preparing Students...Tomorrow's World

The ACIE Newsletter, February 2004, Vol. 7, No. 2

By Jennifer Hope Nolden, Instructional Assistant, Forest Glen International Elementary School, Indianapolis, IN


Each year, many parents in Lawrence Township, Indiana experience the daunting task of selecting the curriculum that's right for their child. In February 2003, a half-day conference, organized for the benefit of parents, succeeded in validating the commitments families in the district have made to second language education.

"Preparing Students...Tomorrow's World" was the brainchild of Forest Glen International Elementary Principal Nikki Woodson, who started work in October 2002 with a conference planning committee made up of language teachers and parent volunteers. With a conference budget of approximately $4600, funded by two US Department of Education grants, the planners decided to hold the conference on a Saturday morning the following February at the elementary school. The grant money allowed the planners to offer the conference to parents free of charge.

Parents had the opportunity to hear keynote speaker, Dr. Tara Fortune, Immersion Projects Coordinator for the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, and attend three half-hour breakout sessions conducted by staff members of the schools that house the Immersion and Global Studies programs (for a description of these programs, see sidebar on page 10). In addition, an exhibit hall was open at the end of the morning to allow parents to peruse an exhibitors' section which included publishing houses, summer language camps, clothing and gift retailers, and the school's parent organization.

Among the eleven breakout topics offered were:

  • helping your child in immersion with school work at home;
  • K-5 reading assessment and practice;
  • summer language learning opportunities to enhance your child's Spanish;
  • middle school immersion program review;
  • second language learning research; and
  • the evolving high school immersion program.

CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS

Dr. Fortune opened the conference with a discussion of research findings about the benefits of becoming bilingual at an early age. It was reassuring to hear that our children are growing in a multitude of ways. She also outlined the cognitive and sociocultural benefits associated with second language learning. She reassured us that the pay-offs for long-term commitment to the program were huge at the end. Dr. Fortune also met with school board members and administrators during her visit. Parent response to this was strong. "A small, but mighty program such as this deserves funding, recognition and continual nurturing," stated immersion parent Elizabeth McCarty.

Workshop presenter Sra. Pamela Valdes characterized the conference experience as "eye-opening for its participants A chance to talk with 'experts' in the field confirmed that our immersion program is on the right track. It also helped the teachers realize what areas of the program need special attention," she said.

Mary Carr, Chair of the Language Department at Lawrence North High School and the administrator of one of the federal grants commented on her workshop, "The evolving high school immersion program at [Lawrence North]": "[It] was a good place to explain the vision to parents [who] will have students in high school later. It gave the parents an opportunity to get an idea of issues and expectations at the high school level that do not exist at the elementary level."

"...Parental support and knowledge is key to an effective immersion program. It is very important for our program that we [provide] parents with an opportunity to dialog, learn together, and hear from leading researchers in the area of second language acquisition."

RESPONSE TO THE CONFERENCE

Forest Glen conference brochure
Forest Glen conference brochure

Conference attendees unanimously indicated a desire to repeat the conference format. Highlights from participant evaluations include:

  • making sessions longer than thirty minutes;
  • organizing a full-day conference;
  • posting information from all sessions on the school website so that participants can get an overview of sessions they missed;
  • including more information about secondary immersion/global language learning.

Linda Thrapp was one of many parents who left the conference feeling uplifted and excited about the direction they had chosen for their children, "This seminar energized me and re-affirmed what fantastic opportunities occur daily at Forest Glen. I particularly appreciated the information and research that Dr. Fortune provided on global language learning.... I walked away from the seminar convinced that all of my children, in both Global Studies and Immersion programs, were receiving a fantastic elementary education which would serve them well in all areas of future study."

For me personally, themost helpful information concerned our students' opinion of their own educational experience. "It is not until the child matures to high school age or older that they begin to have a profound appreciation of their immersion education," explained Dr. Fortune. There are sacrifices to be made when a child chooses the magnet school option. Playmates are sometimes across town, busing can be tricky and the boy next door goes to a different middle or high school. To an adolescent, those can be big factors big enough to demand being removed from this program. At our house at the onset of middle school (not our "home" school) our daughter frequently requested to be removed from the program. She felt isolated and stuck with a small group of kids that appeared different from the rest of the school. I'm sure that her perceptions weren't totally off, and it wouldn't surprise me to hear that the immersion teachers had their own initiation issues as well.

Now that our oldest is in high school, she is fiercely proud of her language experience and knows this will give her a boost in college admission. While elective choices are limited in order to complete the language requirements, she appreciates and is grateful for this opportunity. She is excited about becoming an IB candidate, another program she and her family will dutifully pioneer, and one that is a great adjunct to her immersion education.

FUTURE PLANS FOR FOREST GLEN

Forest Glen envisions continued parent education and increased documentation of student language acquisition through consistent assessments. Mrs. Woodson states, "Forest Glen is in its tenth year of implementation. We have had many successes along the way, but it is now time to review and revise our program for continued improvements in all areas with all kids." Sra. Valdes' vision for future topics includes an immersion day for parents as well as discussion of parental support for the Immersion and Global Studies programs.

Diversity and respect for the greater world cannot be taught through a textbookit must be experienced each day through interaction with native Spanish speaking adults accompanied by a rich, interactive, globally based curriculum.

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