Superintendent Monifa McKnight announced the addition of three dual language elementary schools during her recommended operating budget presentation on Monday night. Her proposed budget for Montgomery County Public Schools’ next fiscal year includes $591,000 in funding for the new schools.
The dual language two-way immersion model consists of school days equally balanced between presenting material to students in English and in another language. Kindergartners in Oneyda Chavez’s class at Rolling Terrace, for example, spend their mornings learning in English. After lunch, Chavez transitions to teaching in Spanish.
There are currently six elementary schools in Montgomery County that operate solely in a dual language model. All six programs are offered in English and Spanish. One of the new schools included in McKnight’s budget would represent the county’s first full two-way immersion school offered in Chinese.
On Wednesday afternoon, McKnight visited Rolling Terrace in Silver Spring alongside Montgomery County Board of Education member Shebra Evans to tour the school and highlight the dual language model as an MCPS budget priority.
People of color make up the majority of Montgomery County residents, with 43% of the population identifying as white alone, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. The county’s diversity makes dual language learning particularly important, McKnight told reporters on Wednesday. The learning model allows students to “embrace language in a more cohesive way” and makes it easier for them to build community outside of the classroom, she said.
While visiting a fifth-grade math class at Rolling Terrace, McKnight asked students what they thought was most helpful about learning in both English and Spanish.
“It’s a good opportunity to get a head start on learning,” one student responded.
Another student said having bilingual labeling and visual support around campus has been helpful for her, especially in places like bathrooms.
When McKnight asked students who thought the county should make more schools like theirs, a room full of fifth-grade hands shot into the air.
Susan Levy and Tessa Arevalo are dual language coaches at Rolling Terrace. Both have been with the school for over 10 years. For the past five years the school has offered a program in English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL. But Levy and Arevalo said this is the first year their school fully embraced the dual language immersion model.
Levy said students and families alike have been “very appreciative and excited” about the new method of learning.
“We just knew that this should have always been this way,” Arevalo said. “It made the most sense.”
Levy said most students at Rolling Terrace come from Spanish-speaking homes. For these students, she said, spending half the day learning in their own language has fostered a greater sense of affirmation and pride in their identity. She said the model has also allowed families to play a more active role in their children’s education, including helping with homework.
McKnight told reporters at Rolling Terrace that MCPS has not yet decided on the locations of the new dual language schools. She said she’s focusing on strategically placing the schools using “the lens of equity” so that the learning model is accessible to diverse communities across the county.