Yolanda Rogers would like her two children at Robert Goddard French Immersion School to spend their day immersed in the foreign language, but their immersion in an overcrowded school is keeping that from happening — and their planned relocation site isn’t much better, she said.
The French immersion school, a kindergarten through eighth-grade program in Lanham, is currently housed in the same building as the Robert Goddard Montessori School, where students speak English. The immersion program was supposed to move to the shuttered Greenbelt Middle School this school year, but was delayed due to planning and funding issues.
“We need the space to make it into a full immersion program,” said Rogers, president of the Greenbelt Middle School Task Force, a group formed in 2011 to hold officials accountable for the move. “They share gym time with other students who speak English.”
The move is on track again for the 2014-2015 school year, but parents at a task force meeting Nov. 20 said they aren’t satisfied with the new location because they want the entire facility to be used for the French immersion program. The new move would mean continuing to share space with English speakers as Greenbelt is planning on putting offices in the building, Rogers said. Students also wouldn’t have full access to the facility because a section of the school will be kept available for the school system in case students need to be brought in from other schools during emergencies.
“We want a place we can call our own,” Rogers said, acknowledging that students likely wouldn’t interact much with officials at the new site.
Being in a school with English language speakers poses language conflicts, said Kathleen Brady, Prince George’s County Public Schools instructional director. French immersion students are normally only exposed to English during foreign language classes. Sharing a school with non-immersion students results in announcements being made in English and time in the cafeteria is shared with English-speaking students, which makes it difficult to maintain French as the primary language, Brady said.
Sarah Woodhead, county schools director of capital programs, said the plan is operating under a specific budget, about $3.5 million, so approving new space would require more money to expand renovations, which necessitate approval from the county school board.
Parents vowed to get in contact with top school officials to stress the importance of the French immersion program having its own space for full immersion and a school they could call their own.
Mitchellville resident Lee Wright, parent of a French immersion student, said many officials may not know about their struggle. It is about getting the word out and going to meetings, she said.
“We are going from sharing with one entity to sharing with two entities,” Wright said. “It doesn’t make sense.”