Dual immersion concerns, professional development discussed at Washington County school board meeting

Laura Bennett, a first grade teacher at Coral Canyon Elementary, shares her insights from a recent professional development conference, St. George, Utah, Aug. 10, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —In addition to hearing from teachers and administrators about their experience at a professional development conference, the Washington County Board of Education also heard a variety of concerns from parents during their Tuesday meeting.

A concerned parent speaks to the Washington county Board of Education about the district’s dual immersion program, St. George, Utah, Aug. 10, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Among the ongoing controversies related to mask mandates and critical race theory, a more recent concern heard Tuesday had to do with the district’s Chinese dual immersion programs.

Harmony Vanderhorst, a local parent with three children involved in Chinese immersion classes, said the rate of students passing the 10th grade exams to demonstrate their Chinese fluency was extremely low.

“The ball has really been dropped with the Chinese program,” Vanderhorst said. “There are some huge gaps that need to be addressed. I think the program has amazing potential, but it definitely needs to be readdressed.”

Students involved in Chinese dual immersion, which is available at 13 district schools, can choose to take the Advanced Placement test for Chinese Language and Culture in order to earn college credit.

While the nationwide passing rate for the exam is fairly high (89%), several parents that spoke at the meeting said the district’s passing rate is low, and claimed that the poor scores were a reflection of the quality of instruction available.

“I’m a believer in the program, but we definitely need to make some changes,” said Lauri Scholzen, another parent with several children in the program. “I think our immersion program overall for 9 years has focused on one road, which is AP. I don’t believe that’s been successful. I’d like to see us do concurrent enrollment. It would resolve oodles of concerns.”

Professional development

In other news, teachers and administrators at several Washington County schools shared their experiences from a recent professional development conference.

Stock photo | Courtesy of Christina Morillo/Pexels, St. George News

From Aug. 2–4, the education company Solution Tree hosted the Professional Learning Communities at Work Live Institute in Washington County. The event was broadcast from local schools to other districts around the country while participants in Washington County interacted with the speakers and content in person.

A professional learning community is a group of colleagues, in this case teachers, who collaborate to tackle shared problems or to offer assistance to members of their group in need. The conference was one of several held each year to help teachers and districts strengthen their professional learning communities.

Superintendent Larry Bergeson said Washington County was chosen to host the event at the beginning of August because of the high number of professional learning communities in the district.

“It was to our advantage,” Bergeson added, “because our teachers were able to attend for a much lower cost than it would have been otherwise.”

The superintendent invited district teachers to the school board meeting, including Laura Bennett of Coral Canyon Elementary School, to share what they learned.

Madison Rej, Mike Hassler and Sophia Ford were recognized by Board President Kelly Blake for the excellence of the district internship program, St. George, Utah, Aug. 10, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

“One of the biggest takeaways I had from this conference was that a professional learning community is not a meeting,” Bennett said. “It encompasses every person that works in a school building, and when we have opportunities to work together, then our students have more opportunities to learn what they need to learn.”

The Washington County School District supplied 1,440 participants from 51 of its schools, including 86% of its teachers. In previous years, the high cost of registration and the difficulty of arranging travel for so many teachers prevented the district from offering the training to all of its staff at the same time.

Bergeson said the opportunity to send teachers to the conference in the local region saved the district over $1.1 million, and the price tag could have risen to $1.8 million with the cost of travel included. Instead, the total cost this year was $48,000.

Following the public comment period, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting of the Washington County Board of Education will be held on Aug. 23 at 5:15 p.m.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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