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Changes to bilingual education ahead at Jackson Elementary

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Immigrant parents joined teachers from Andrew Jackson Elementary School in a rally on the steps on the last day of school to protest proposed cuts to the school’s teaching and support staff.

Parents and community members held signs that read “We support our school and our teachers” and “No a los recortes de maestros!

They said they are fighting not only to preserve language access and bilingual education at their school, but also to protect language access positions within the District that have helped them navigate the system and District programs that are specific to their needs.

Ludy Soderman, who worked as the District’s director of multilingual family support, is one member of central staff who has been laid off.

Zac Steele of JUNTOS, an immigrant organizing group, said 14 staff at Jackson have already received pink slips, including teachers and support and administrative staff. This means drastic changes at the school, which at 32.4 percent, has the largest Latino student population in South Philadelphia.

“For years we worked to increase the number of bilingual counselors in all the schools across the District, and three years ago they added about 30 positions across the District. But now that whole program is being cut in half from 104 to 51. At Jackson, that means the bilingual counselor is being cut down from five days to two days,” Steele said.

Steele said the school’s ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) staff will also see reductions. It will lose its only bilingual psychologist, and the parent ombudsman is also being eliminated.

Jackson includes a very diverse Spanish-speaking student population, among them Mexican, Dominican, and Puerto Rican students. Steele said, “if half your school speaks Spanish and you can’t communicate with your school, that’s a serious problem. So parents are very concerned about how this is going to affect their children."

Rosana Pena, a parent whose son Abel just finished his first year at Jackson, worries about students having to sever relationships with teachers they know and trust. Jackson has 20 teachers on staff.

“Even when our children are young, they get to know their teachers and teachers of other classrooms. They form opinions of those teachers and build trust with those teachers, so we’d like to think that that community will continue and our children won’t have to become accustomed to forming those bonds and then having those bonds broken,” Pena said.

Some parents have said they would consider moving their children to other schools if the teaching positions aren’t restored.

“One of the few redeeming things about this school is the teachers. Every year I keep on saying I’m not going to take my son to this school and send him to a Catholic school, but every year I get fabulous teachers here,” said Tirza Trejo, whose daughter Abigail and son Andrew just completed kindergarten and 2nd grade.

“Another thing I appreciate about the teachers is that the teachers work very hard with my son who has problems, and they try to integrate him into the classroom and keep his behavior good. I’ve never dealt with teachers who were so willing to work with me to try and alleviate some of his problems, so I can say that if the same teachers aren’t here next year, neither will my children,” she said.