Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, gave members of the District 65 School Board an update on the plan to advance the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program at the Board’s Feb. 11 meeting.

The TWI program’s primary purpose is to serve Spanish-speaking students who are learning English. Under the TWI model, 50% of a classroom should be native Spanish speaking students (TWS), and 50% should be native English speakers (TWE). The goal is to promote academic achievement of all students in the program and to develop high levels of bilingualism and biliteracy of all students.

The TWI program has been offered at Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington and Willard elementary schools for many years.

This school year, the District added two strands of TWI at the kindergarten level at Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, and the plan is to expand the TWI program there one grade level each year. Over time, Bessie Rhodes will be a global studies school, with all TWI classrooms.   

The expansion at Bessie Rhodes was intended to address several issues, including an increased enrollment of native Spanish-speaking students in the District, to achieve a 50/50 balance of TWS and TWE students in each classroom, and to increase opportunities for Black students to participate in the program.

Some Demographics

One goal of the TWI program is to have a 50/50 balance between TWS and TWE students. In the 2017-2018 school year, Dr. Beardsley said, the TWI classrooms had balances ranging from 80/20 to 40/60. “Now, with eight strands at the kindergarten level, districtwide we’re at 50/50, but when we go to the school sites the language allocation and the language balance is still off in the system.” 

Dr. Beardsley said administrators were trying “to figure out how to get a better language balance across sites.” But, she said, there is a tension between achieving this goal and trying to place TWS students in a TWI classroom as close to their attendance-area school as possible.

Another goal of the TWI program is to increase opportunities for Black students to participate in the program. This school year, the TWI kindergarten classes at Bessie Rhodes have a total of 32 students, 12 of whom are Black – or roughly two-thirds of the TWE students. Dr. Beardsley attributed this relatively high participation rate to the preference given to families living in certain areas of the Second and Fifth Ward to attend Bessie Rhodes. Many Black families reside in the preference area. Despite the high participation rate at Bessie Rhodes, Dr. Beardsley said, “District 65 did not see a significant overall shift in Black or African American students enrolled in TWI.”

Dr. Beardsley added that there are too many TWI classrooms where there are only one or two Black students in the classroom. She said this becomes a challenge for the Black students to maintain their own racial identity. 

She said one factor that may limit the participation of Black students is that students whose attendance-area school has classrooms with a relatively high number of students may be given a preference to enroll in a TWI class over students whose attendance-area school has smaller classroom sizes. This may work against students in the Oakton and Dawes attendance areas, she said.

Another factor that may limit opportunities for Black students to participate in the program is the sibling preference. Because a high percentage of TWE students are White, the sibling preference tends to reinforce that statistic.

The data also show that a much higher percentage of White TWE students are able to participate in the TWI program at their attendance-area school than TWS students. This year, Dr. Beardsley said, 40% of TWS students participated in a TWI class in their attendance area school. In contrast, 83% of White TWE students and 42% of Black TWE students attended TWI in their attendance-area school.

Dr. Beardsley said this disproportionality may result because many White households are willing to enroll their child in TWI only if they can attend the program in their attendance-area school. Because of the location of TWI sites, many TWS students must travel to get English language support.

Consolidating TWI Sites, Expansion to Middle Schools

Dr. Beardsley said that the Equity Report presented by Corrie Wallace in May 2017 indicated that the “single-strand model increased isolation for students and educators in the TWI program,” and that “moving to a two-strand model could increase opportunities for relationship building, collaboration and voice an influence in the school community.”

To carry out that recommendation, the District is planning to consolidate TWI strands so that no school has a single strand of TWI, said Dr. Beardsley. Administrators plan to spend the next year deciding on which schools will house the TWI program on a long-term basis.

Currently, Washington has two strands of TWI at the K-5 grade levels, and Bessie Rhodes has two strands at the kindergarten level. Four schools have one strand of TWI: Dawes, Dewey, Oakton and Willard.

One factor that administrators will consider in recommending long-term sites for the program is where native Spanish-speaking students reside and where a high percentage of native Spanish-speaking students could attend the TWI program at their attendance-area school.   

Dr. Beardsley said that TWS students predominantly live in Oakton, Dawes and Washington attendance areas.

Amy Correa, Bilingual and ESL Coordinator, said administrators will also develop a plan to expand TWI to the middle-school grades. She said there is currently one course, Spanish for Spanish speakers, in the middle schools for former TWI students. She said they have also been working to develop a Spanish-language arts class, which could be offered to students who choose it in lieu of a foreign language class.

Dr. Beardsley said they have been talking to principals about a possible location of consolidated TWI strands and will continue engagement around the placement of TWI strands in the next 12 months in order to present a plan to implement the changes in the 2020-2021 school year.

After that, she said, the next step will be to move forward with a plan to expand TWI to middle school.

Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti asked what can be done to address the 50/50 balance of TWS and TWE students, to increase opportunities for Black students to participate in the program, and the issue of Black students’ isolation in some TWI classes. Dr. Beardsley said these issues were being considered by administrators and outlined some steps that administrators were taking in an attempt to address the issues. 

Board President Suni Kartha said, “Consolidation of strands is important work. I think it would be a mistake to look at strand consolidation in isolation of larger questions of enrollment and busing in the District.

“If the goal is to reduce the number of students of color who are bused to programs, we have to look at busing overall. We can’t look at it just in the perspective of programs. I hope we do it in the broader context of looking at enrollment and boundaries.”

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...