Starting a Spanish dual language immersion program is no easy feat, but it can be especially difficult when the program is started in an already existent traditional English-only school. Before starting an immersion program at a school site that has an already established culture, it is imperative that school and district leaders prepare all stakeholders for the transition to becoming a Spanish bilingual school, which must and should include holding space for Latino students and their families, along with the Latino community. Holding space, in this article, is defined as upholding the essence of the Latino community by continuously addressing, with compassion and empathy, the academic, social, and emotional needs of Latino students. Holding space for Latino students also includes teaching the accurate Chicano, Latino, and Hispanic histories (including indigenous, Asian, and African), as well as other occurrences and facts that have been historically omitted from the curricula in the schools.
Spanish immersion programs are started by districts and schools for several reasons including:
- closing the achievement gap between Latino students and their higher achieving counterparts
- wanting to start a dual language program in a community with a Spanish-speaking Latino population to develop multilingualism in all students, regardless of background
- a desire to increase a district's student population due to low enrollment
When an immersion program is established and the mission and vision of the program are written, the inclusion of cultural literacy is an integral part of the success of the language program. School leaders and teachers, including all school staff, must be trained on cultural pedagogical practices and culturally-responsive pedagogy in order to ensure that the culture/s and the histories of the students are represented, learned about, and honored as a school community. This especially includes the Latino/Hispanic culture/s, since the school's languages of instruction are Spanish and English.
Holding space for Latino students includes doing everything possible to understand the community's struggles, culture/s, traditions, grief, and history. It is knowing that Latinos in the United States have historically suffered marginalization, deportations, racism & classism, violence, mass incarcerations, police brutality, amongst many other issues that are unique to this community. It is important for school leaders and teachers to have an authentic understanding of the issues that impact the Latino community and to have liaisons who will adequately communicate those needs to school and district leaders.
Leading and establishing a Spanish immersion language program should always be done through a social justice lens and should reflect the accurate histories of the struggles, triumphs, and the injustices that have affected the Latino, Hispanic, and Chicano community/ies for hundreds of years, especially in the educational systems of the United States.
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