Colleges around the country require you to have studied, or be able to speak, a second language. This is true in Florida but students there don’t have to take a foreign language for high school credit.
As a condition of their children attending the school, every parent has signed a contract to speak Spanish with their kids for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
It’s an unusual effort to keep the students of Immokalee Community School from losing their Spanish—something that often happens between generations of immigrants.
“All the Spanish I’ve learned I’ve had to learn through school, through work,” says Cece Estrada, a social worker at the school. She grew up in Immokalee, her family migrated with the crops. When they spoke to her in Spanish, she answered in English—and she didn’t grow up bilingual.
“That’s why I encourage it, because now I understand how important it is to be able to have that second language,” says Estrada.
Immokalee Community School is an RCMA charter school serving the largely Mexican and Central American migrant communities in this small, agricultural town in Central Florida.
The school is 94% Hispanic, and most of the parents speak Spanish at home.
“We should never see the home language that a student brings to the classroom as some kind of problem that needs to be fixed,” says Robert Linquanti, a researcher and policy advisor with WestEd. “It’s a resource that can be built on.”
Linquanti points out there’s a lot of research showing that speaking more than one language is associated with all sorts of benefits—better multitasking skills, more developed critical thinking, stronger math skills.
Florida has a history of pioneering dual language education. Coral Way Elementary School in Miami was the first school in the United States to offer bilingual education in 1963.