CHS protest

Corvallis High School students protest changes to the dual immersion program Thursday afternoon. 

More than 80 Corvallis High School students walked out of class Thursday to protest recent Corvallis School District decisions about the future of the dual language immersion program, which brings together native Spanish- and English speakers as kindergartners for curriculum aimed at graduating students fluent in both languages.

A student held a sign that read “We learn in Spanish, we don’t learn Spanish,” during the protest, which included gathering on the sidewalk outside the school during an afternoon class period and marching around the building.

An administrator at Corvallis High said the school was willing to work with the students to address their concerns.

Camilla Robertson, a sophomore who has been in the program since she was a kindergartner at Garfield Elementary School, said students have three primary concerns.

The first is that the school’s class about the history of Spanish-speaking countries, which is conducted in Spanish but covers social studies topics, gives students only a half-credit in social studies, with the other half-credit falling into the fine-arts/language category.

Robertson said dual immersion students are still able to get enough social studies credits to graduate without taking extra classes, but she said not granting a full social studies credit for the class disrespects what they're learning, which includes history on three continents.

“The only difference between our class and a normal social studies class is the language,” said Mateo McCann, another sophomore in the program.

Robertson said that another of the students' concerns is that starting in the fall, some freshmen in the program will go straight into AP Spanish instead of taking the class as juniors.

She said this has the effect of splitting up dual immersion students who have been together since kindergarten and placing them with students they don’t know. She said the protesters aren't just concerned about their own cohort being split up — they also don’t think it’s fair for the rising freshmen to be separated from their peers.

Dual immersion students are like a family, according to McCann. “A lot of us were upset that they were ruining our community,” he said.

Robertson said the students’ third concern is that  administrators don’t appear to have worked out what dual immersion classes the incoming freshmen will take after completing AP Spanish.

“They have no plan for what they will take next year,” she said.

Robertson noted that one lesson in the class about Spanish-speaking countries was that many uprisings begin with students and young people.

“It goes with our curriculum that we are stepping up and taking responsibility,” she said.

Clarissa Cisneros, a sophomore who organized the protest, said in addition to those three issues, the students don’t feel people understand what dual immersion is. She said many view it as just an advanced Spanish class, but it's more than that: Students are studying other subjects as well, but the lessons are in Spanish.

“We already know Spanish," she said. "We’re learning about the world in Spanish.”

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Robertson said the students hope to send a message to the district administration that will result in changes, if not in the coming school year, then in the future.

“We’re still going to work on it, even if it doesn’t work out for us next year,” she said.

Invested in the program

Paul Navarra, a Corvallis High School assistant principal, told the Gazette-Times Friday morning that he was planning to meet with the organizers of the protest Friday afternoon. (Results of that meeting were not immediately available Friday night.)

“I love that they are invested in the program and they care so much,” he said, adding that it's important for students to feel ownership of the program.

On the issue of the social studies credit, he said the state requires specific curriculum in global studies classes, and since the history of Spanish-speaking countries doesn’t cover all those topics, the school can’t offer a full social studies credit for it. However, he said, the school is open to adding some topics to the class in future school years so it could work as an equivalent to the global studies class and offer a full credit for social studies.

He also said it was natural for students to feel angst about the addition of freshmen to the AP Spanish class. He said the change was part of an effort to improve the dual immersion program across the district and increase the representation of students from underrepresented demographics in all AP classes.

Navarra said the feeder schools for the Corvallis High School dual immersion program have been making changes to their curriculum, such as increasing the amount of time students in grades kindergarten through second spend speaking Spanish. As part of that effort, district officials evaluated eighth-graders in the program and around a dozen showed they were more than ready for AP Spanish.

“These students are ready,” he said. “Why are we asking them to wait two years?”

Navarra said by getting some students from Spanish-speaking families into AP classes as freshmen can give them the confidence to take more AP classes in the future, which could result in a better representation in those classes from students who are currently underrepresented. 

He said the school hasn’t yet found resources to hire additional teaching staff to expand the dual immersion course offerings, but the school is committed to offering more academic classes in Spanish.

“Students who start in AP Spanish will continue to have dual immersion classes through high school,” he said.

Navarra said at present, Corvallis High School students in the dual immersion program have just one class in Spanish on their schedule, so only 12.5 percent of their school week is in Spanish. By contrast, in grades K-2, dual immersion students are in Spanish 70 percent of the time, in grades 3-5 they are in Spanish 50 percent of the time, and in middle school they are in Spanish a third of the time. He said Corvallis High's goal in the future is to expand dual immersion course offerings so that dual immersion students can be in classes conducted in Spanish 25 percent of the time.

Navarra said that in the fall, about 70 incoming freshmen in the dual immersion program will go into the non-AP dual immersion class the school has been offering traditionally. He said the school is also adding a new academic support class, held in Spanish, for about 10 of the incoming dual immersion freshman who need extra help.

Navarra added that he was looking forward to talking with students directly about their ideas for the future of the program.

“This is a great opportunity to see what they bring to the table and how we can incorporate that. We all want the same thing. We have a great program and we want it to get even better.”

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Anthony Rimel covers weekend events, education, courts and crime and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.