Recognition and innovation
In the early 1990s, teachers and administrators in the Phoenix-Talent School District began to notice a sudden shift in the district’s demographics. Only a few years prior there were just 25 students classified as English as a Second Language (ESL), but by 1990 that number had nearly tripled, and more were on the way.
The trend eventually led to a fateful conversation between the district’s only ESL teacher at the time, Sherry Watson, and the head of the Southern Oregon Education Service District’s Migrant Education program, Pam Lucas.
More than thirty years later, Watson still remembers that call.
“(Lucas) said, ‘Well, have you ever considered maybe having a two-way immersion program?’” Watson recalled while looking back in the spring of 2022. “And I said, ‘Well, tell me more about that.’”
Lucas did, and together they began to research the possibility before eventually bringing their findings to Phoenix Elementary principal Jim Buck. The school next brought in parents – both English and Spanish speakers – to see if the interest level matched Lucas’ and Watson’s enthusiasm. It did, so in the fall of 1992 the district’s Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program debuted with a first-grade cohort at Phoenix Elementary, making PES only the second school in the state, and first in Southern Oregon, to offer a TWBI class.
Rose Marie Montan served as Phoenix Elementary’s first TWBI teacher that year. In a story published in the district’s newsletter that fall, Montan described her experience working with that historic class.
“It’s wonderful to watch those youngsters learn to listen so intently to what is being said and try to figure it out as we go along, rather than interrupting immediately and asking for a translation,” she said. “This is a skill that will benefit them the rest of their lives.”
PES added a second-grade class the following year and continued adding classes over the next several years until eventually making its Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program a full K-5 offering. Talent Elementary followed suit soon thereafter.
One of the longest-running bilingual immersion programs on the west coast, Phoenix-Talent’s TWBI program continues to evolve and improve and often serves as a catalyst for students to eventually earn a Seal of Biliteracy. In 2022, in fact, 30 Phoenix High students graduated with a Seal of Biliteracy – the most ever for PHS.