Broad River parents want to keep Chinese immersion program

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMarch 4, 2014 

Beaufort County schools superintendent Jeff Moss answers questions during the fifth and final town hall meeting to discuss the proposed districtwide attendance zones on Monday night at Battery Creek High School in Beaufort.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

  • Future meetings

    After concluding the five town hall meetings throughout the county, the Beaufort County school board's Student Services Committee will meet to discuss the proposed attendance zones and the feedback gathered from parents and community members. The meetings are open to the public:

    • 6 p.m. March 17, Okatie Elementary School
    • 6 p.m. March 19, Okatie Elementary School

The Beaufort County School District held a fifth and final town hall meeting about proposed districtwide attendance zones Monday at Battery Creek High School, but parents there voiced concerns that weren't necessarily part of the agenda.

Broad River Elementary School parents said they want their Chinese immersion language program to stay put.

"Why is the program being taken from Broad River when it is Broad River's baby?" one parent asked. "They have worked very hard for it, and it seems right that they be able to keep it."

Superintendent Jeff Moss has said he plans to move the Chinese immersion program from Broad River to Robert Smalls Middle School when it becomes a prekindergarten through eighth grade school next school year.

Moss said this is because the pre-K-through-eight environment would offer greater continuity for students, who could stay in the same program for nine years and not have have to transition between schools.

The district would not completely end the program at Broad River next year, he said.

It would allow students currently in the program and zoned to that school to stay there through fifth grade and then move to Robert Smalls. Broad River, which will be prekindergarten through fifth grade in August, would not take any new students in the immersion program into its younger grades and would ultimately phase out the program.

Robert Smalls, which is currently fifth through eighth grade, would start its Chinese immersion program in the next school year for new students who want to participate as well as for those in the immersion program being rezoned to the school.

The district created a new elementary zone for Robert Smalls because the school is adding the younger grades. Most of the students will come from the Broad River zone, along with some students from Beaufort elementary schools.

The attendance zones are not final -- the board was gathering feedback on the proposed zones at the meeting -- but should be decided by April 1, Moss said.

Many parents felt that continuity was not a strong enough reason to move the Chinese immersion program, especially when Moss said he plans to leave the Spanish immersion program at Broad River.

"We haven't heard a real justifiable reason for why the program needs to leave Broad River and go to Robert Smalls," said Carolyn Sutcliffe, the parent of a Chinese immersion student. "If you are talking about continuity, those students would benefit by staying together as their group and not being split between two schools."

A Chinese immersion teacher at Broad River also said she's a strong proponent of keeping both language programs at the school.

"It is better for both programs, for the teachers, and for the students both in and out of the programs because they are around it all day," Mindy Farris said. "I think you would be doing a great disservice to separate them."

Board member Geri Kinton, who represents some of the Battery Creek-area schools, said parents voiced valid concerns.

However, after a recent trip to China, where she spoke with other district leaders with similar immersion programs, she said she thinks the move might be a good one.

"During our trip, we started talking about this possibility with others and people who created the program," Kinton said, "and many were very envious of our opportunity to move the program to a pre-K through eighth grade school."

Moss said he and the board listened to the concerns and will take another look at the program to ensure the district is making the right decision.

The district and its schools will continue to discuss expanding choice program options throughout the county, he said. What programs will be at the district's schools should be decided in the coming months.

"I think in the choice process, just like the redistricting process, it is important to have input from the schools and parents," Moss said. "But it ultimately is the responsibility of the staff and the board to look at how that fits within the whole district and make those decisions."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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