Dual Language Literacy Is Ethnic Studies


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by Tracy Gill

Last May, the Seattle Public Schools school board voted unanimously to adopt ethnic studies curriculum in every school and every grade level. Today, two programs, which are inherently ethnic studies, are under attack in South Park.

Concord International Elementary School is known to be a jewel in this South Seattle neighborhood because of the culturally rich student population and curriculum, which has centered on Latinx culture and Spanish Language.

As an International School, Concord is the starting point for the dual language track in West Seattle. The other West Seattle International Schools in the dual language pathway, Denny, and Chief Sealth, have created a dual language program steeped in social justice and ethnic studies. The literacy teachers in this program have a primary goal of creating identity safety for their mostly Latinx students, and teaching Spanish in literacy provides more opportunity to study Hispanic authors, poets, activists, community leaders, and Latinx history than in any other discipline, other than social studies.

For reasons that are still unclear, Concord principal, Dr. Zavala, unilaterally decided to end the dual language literacy model. Concord PTSA organized a meeting on Tuesday, October 3rd, where many parents and community members expressed their outrage and disbelief that this decision was made without input from stakeholders. In addition to ending the literacy model, Dr. Zavala ended a hugely popular and successful partnership with Marra Farm and Solid Ground.

In her defense, Dr. Zavala claims that the dual language program is still intact and effective, because students are taught Spanish using math, science, music, and social studies content. The reason that students no longer receive Spanish instruction in literacy, according to Dr. Zavala and Seattle Public Schools, is because the district adopted new English language arts curriculum. Many attendees of Tuesday night’s meeting expressed their opinion that this felt like pushing standardized testing as a priority, because English language arts is a tested subject, and it’s only tested in English.

Another concern, in terms of ethnic studies, is that math and science are more challenging disciplines to teach about Latinx culture. Literacy and social studies are more natural disciplines for this content. However, a third grade, dual language teacher from Concord shared with the group that she is only allotted 55 minutes per school day to teach both science and social studies!

More time is given to math and literacy because they are tested subjects. Moving away from a model that fosters a more ethnic studies approach begs the question, “In a time of increasing gentrification in neighborhoods like South Park, who are the true beneficiaries of this new, dual language model?”

New science curriculum was given as the reason for terminating the partnership with Marra Farm and Solid Ground. Marra Farm provided and taught free nutrition and farming sciences curriculum, and took the students on field trips to the farm. South Park and Concord are in a food desert, and the curriculum taught students to be proactive in their personal lives with nutrition AND in their communities – which is largely Hispanic!

Since it was provided through Marra Farm and Solid Ground, the teachers didn’t have to do any extra work. Dr. Zavala argued that Marra Farm is operated by Seattle Parks and Rec., so it’s still a resource, but parents pointed out that comes at the expense of more work on behalf of the teachers who would now have to provide the curriculum and handle cumbersome field trip paperwork. Marra Farm wanted to continue the partnership, but like the literacy program, Dr. Zavala acted without community engagement in ending the program. 

Dual language literacy IS ethnic studies! The partnership with Marra Farm IS ethnic studies! Why is SPS allowing these programs to be cut? This is not what a district committed to ethnic studies and closing opportunity gaps looks like. They need to reinstate these programs and do better.

The next PTSA meeting is Tuesday, November 7th, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the South Park Information and Resource Center: 8201 10th Ave S. Please join us in supporting these important programs.

Tracy Gill is an SPS educator, advisory board member of Seattle Education Association’s Center for Race and Equity, and a member of the NAACP Ethnic Studies Resolution Team. She is currently working on solutions to implementing ethnic studies curriculum in all grades and classrooms in Seattle Public Schools.

Featured image courtesy of College Library