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At the Dec. 3 District 65 School Board meeting, Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, and Keri Mendez, Principal of Bessie Rhodes, provided an update on the implementation of the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) Program at Bessie Rhodes and efforts to strengthen the global studies program at the school.
The TWI program was implemented at the kindergarten level this year, and the plan is to expand the program to first grade next year, and then expand it one additional grade level each year. In December 2017, the School Board decided to convert Bessie Rhodes into an all-TWI school with a global studies program.
Dr. Beardsley emphasized, “TWI is a component of a global studies model. Becoming fluent in two languages, bi-cultural, bi-literal is a very important component of a global studies model. It does not overcome a global studies model. It strengthens a global studies model.”
She said, “We’re really, really positive and excited about the work that’s happening – kindergarten through eighth grade.”
Before the decision was made last year, many parents opposed converting the school into an all-TWI school, saying they would pull their children out of the school if that were done. Ms. Beardsley reported that enrollment at Bessie Rhodes dropped 20% this year, compared to last year.
The Opening of School Reports reflect that the total enrollment for first, second and third grades at Bessie Rhodes declined by 30% between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years, and the total enrollment for seventh and eighth grades at the school declined by 31%.
Implementation of TWI, and Goals for the School
Ms. Mendez summarized the school’s goals and some key things Bessie Rhodes is doing to achieve those goals. She said the school has three goals for the year:
• Student achievement: The goals are to increase the number of students in kindergarten through second grades who are reading at or above grade level and to reduce the gaps between African American, Hispanic and White students.
• Collaborative Teachers: This goal is to increase collaboration among teachers and staff, as measured by the 5Essentials Survey administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.
• Collective Responsibility: The third goal is to increase collective responsibility, as measured by 5Essentials Survey.
Ms. Mendez said teachers have studied student achievement data, and are delivering targeted differentiated instruction to small groups of students on a daily basis. They are also implementing intervention plans for students performing below the 25th percentile and working to increase the percentage of students scoring about the 90th percentile. “We have a push on all of our students,” she said.
Ms. Mendez said staff have goal setting conversation with students, and “We are having students really internalize their goals and articulate them and be able to shape what they are doing to achieve the goals.” The plan is use student goals in shaping small-group instruction.
The school has established a Reading Buddies program, which pairs older students with younger students to read together. The older students are positive role models for the younger students, and they also can develop skills while working with the younger students.
Over the summer, Ms. Mendez said a Bessie Rhodes team obtained input from teachers on how to create a more cohesive staff, and they designed professional learning based on the feedback. They are working to create more collaborative planning time with teachers, and they are creating structures to enable teachers to observe their peers while they teach in the classroom and provide observations.
Ms. Mendez said the school has formed a student-voice committee for eighth graders that meets one or two times a month. “We have lunch together, and they share some of the things they’d like to see in their school and how we can build relationships throughout the building.”
She said the school is also working to create a thriving school community and homing in on building trust among school staff, students and families. They have had monthly parent coffees, and have held parent meetings in the evenings.
“We really have a focus on pride within our schools,” said Ms. Mendez. “We are proud with where we are, and everything emanates from that.”
Dr. Beardsley said, “The Bessie Rhodes team and District 65 worked together to ensure a strong launch of the two kindergarten classes at Bessie Rhodes.” She added that the Bessie Rhodes team led the selection process of the two highly qualified bilingual teachers and a TWI teaching assistant.
Dr. Beardsley added the school is planning a community arts project, where people can come together to build community engagement, and the District has allocated funds for another school-wide event.
She acknowledged that Bessie Rhodes’ enrollment has declined, and they are working on ways to market the school and also market Oakton Elementary School.
“Part of what we need to do is use advertising and social media to get the word out to the community that there’s really good options for families that can meet the needs of students who are looking for something a little bit different,” said Dr. Beardsley.
Superintendent Paul Goren said, “I want to salute the leadership at the school, including the faculty and the staff. The tone of the school has changed. There’s a difference. It’s really, really exciting.”
Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said when Board members approved the program a year ago, they asked that an advisory group be formed to advise on the implementation and also that restorative work be done with families who had opposed converting the school to an all-TWI school.
Dr. Beardsley said when she talked with Bessie Rhodes staff about forming an advisory group, leadership and staff at the school said they already had a lot of committees and asked, “Can you work within some of our existing committees?” Ms. Beardsley said, “We tried to use existing structures.”
As far as doing restorative work, Dr. Beardsley said the District’s staff has tried to give the Bessie Rhodes team space to get a sense of what they felt the District should do. “We’re ready to support what the community really needs.”
Ms. Mendez said the Bessie Rhodes team had a “talking circle” with parents, at which parents could express their feelings and concerns. She said the “feelings are still there,” and school staff were acknowledging the feelings and concerns and trying to address them.
Dr. Beardsley said, “Some parents are optimistic, but cautiously optimistic. We need to continue to work together over time and live up to our commitment at the school, and staff is really working hard to do that right now.”
Board member Sergio Hernandez made a number of suggestions. He said, “One thing I’ve heard from Spanish-speaking parents is they don’t think their children are challenged enough.” He added he would like to see a goal around competency in Spanish. He said ETHS is offering a bi-literacy class, and students who take the class can obtain college credit. “I’d like to get kids ready for that,” he said.
The Bessie Rhodes team said they have developed a rigorous curriculum, and they welcomed a goal that students be competent in Spanish.
Mr. Hernandez also said he would like to have a Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee established at the school that could advise teachers and help guide the program.
He asked if part of the African Centered Curriculum program could be implemented as part of the social studies curriculum at the school. Ms. Tanyavutti similarly asked how a culturally responsive curriculum, which included the Black perspective, could be implemented in the TWI program throughout the District. Board member Rebecca Mendoza said she would like an African American curriculum embedded not only in the TWI classrooms, but in all of the District’s classrooms.
Dr. Beardsley said the District is currently working on implementing a culturally responsive curriculum in the schools, and is building capacity to do so.
Ms. Mendoza added, “Community building is really important upfront. Make that a priority. It’s really important to me. It was really important to us when we included that” in approving the TWI program at Bessie Rhodes.