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Glenwood Elementary becomes a bilingual magnet school

Chapel Hill’s oldest elementary school, Glenwood, will become a magnet school for the English-Mandarin Dual Language Program, as voted by the school board Sept. 20. This decision was controversial and was met with some backlash by the community.

Glenwood, opened in 1953, has been a big part of Chapel Hill history. The school was desegregated in the late 1950’s and early 60’s and has evolved into one of the most diverse schools in the area, catalyzed by the introduction of the Mandarin program in 2002. The program has English-speaking students learning Mandarin, and Mandarin-speaking children learning English, allowing for cross-cultural integration from a young age. Throughout the years, a select number of parents elected for their children to participate in the program instead of normal English-speaking elementary classes.

As Glenwood has grown to be overpopulated over the years, so has the Dual Language program. This is why the school board proposed and voted in favor of making Glenwood a magnet school in an effort to grow the program and to depopulate Glenwood’s overcrowded classrooms in accord with the state’s new elementary class-size guidelines. With Glenwood becoming a magnet school, the school will now be able to bypass these guidelines.

The Dual Language Program has had difficulty sustaining class-sizes in the past, with this being the first year with a waiting list at the entry-level. However, at higher grade levels there has been difficulty maintaining a population, especially with the introduction of state testing in third grade.

The magnet school proposal has been up in the air for much of 2018, yet the voting process immediately following Hurricane Florence seemed abrupt to some members of the Glenwood community.

“The board made a decision without our input. They had a plan in place on Wednesday and passed it on Thursday,” said a Glenwood teacher who wished to remain anonymous.

“If I feel the need to be anonymous, do you see what’s wrong with that?” said the teacher, fighting back emotion. “We feel our jobs are in jeopardy if we speak out. How does that make me feel as an advocate? It’s very frustrating.”

While many traditional track families are in opposition of the change, the Dual Language program has had a lasting positive impact for those involved in the community.

“The Dual Language Program is the reason my family moved to North Carolina,” said junior Madeline Minton, a graduate of the program. “When you have a special skill set, like a dual language skill… it opens up so many opportunities that I otherwise would not have had. That’s where I found the value.”

“When we learn about each other and understand culture, understand perspectives and language, it promotes a more unified human community,” said Minton. “I think [a magnet school] will be a very good thing. I’m excited to see how it plays out.”

While the new change might seem ideal on paper, not all members of the community are in support. At a recent school board meeting, parents and teachers voiced their concerns to the board.

“All we want, traditional families, are to go to the school that we’re districted for when we bought our frickin’ houses,” parent Ron Difelice told the board. “Is that too much to ask?”

Many parents share his concern, as students and families who do not wish to participate in the Dual Language program will have to be redistricted to other elementary schools in town. Teachers of traditional students will also have to move on to other teaching positions in the district.

“My goal was to make an impact on Glenwood students until I retire,” said kindergarten teacher Amanda Thorne to the board, who has been at the school for 12 years. “I had no plans of ever leaving Glenwood. If I’m transferred, I do not know which school I’ll be told to go to and what grade level will be available.”

The district has made it clear that teachers will be offered another job in the district, yet how this will pan out remains uncertain.

“[The district] has invested a lot of money and a lot of time in these teachers,” said another former Glenwood teacher who also wished to remain anonymous. “They are going to replace them with teachers that don’t have that experience. To me it’s a sign of disrespect, not honoring that commitment.”

By Jonas Hattman, Opinion Editor

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