By Donald Byrne
Siler City, NC – Have you heard about the great language program in Siler City?
In ten years of living in the county, it’s the most exciting thing I’ve seen in Chatham County schools. It’s called dual language immersion, and it starts in Kindergarten at Siler City Elementary and continues to grade 12 at Jordan Matthews. (There’s a similar program in the eastern part of the county, too.) Starting in Kinder, students become fluent in two languages, Spanish and English, for the same one price of your tax dollars. This is incredibly forward-thinking. The employee of the future has a great advantage in being bilingual, and the two best second languages out there are Spanish and Chinese.
Wealthy families at private schools all over the world would and do pay thousands for dual language. I once taught at a private school in Atlanta that offered dual language immersion programs in Spanish-English, French-English, and German-English. For the price of one year of tuition at that school, you could get an entire degree at CCCC.
Not only that, but the Chatham County Schools dual language program also flips on its head the drama we sometimes hear in Siler City surrounding the influx of Central American immigrants. It turns the drama into an incredible strength, and here’s how.
To be authentic, you need, in a true dual language immersion program, a 50-50 mix of families. That is, you need half the kids to be mother-tongue in one language, and the other half in the other. That way, in school, everyone learns from the other half, and no one is at a disadvantage. Those fancy private schools? Sometimes they have to halfway fake it, because they can’t find students who really speak Spanish at home. This is a big challenge to their program. In Siler City, however, we naturally have the perfect mix in our community. All students thus hear authentic language from their peers all day long — in the lunchroom, in the playground, in the halls. And so they become truly bilingual, truly bicultural, and truly a world citizen of the future.
Wow. I am so thankful to Nikki Murchison, who heads up the Siler City Elementary program where my son is in Kinder, and to the ESL department leaders like Charles Aiken and Maureen Legaria who have spearheaded excellent dual language professional development for our teachers. I am so thankful that this world-class resource is available to us in little Siler City — and at a free public school! I pinch myself, since I’ve traveled the world and seen many expensive private schools that can’t touch what we have. And I thank the heavens above every day for the vibrant mix of humanity that is to be found in Siler City and in other pockets of Chatham County. We are truly blessed by this regenerative in-pouring of new folks.