Culmination

My daughter took a test with San Francisco Unified School District this weekend to determine her bilingual status.

She passed!

Those two words don’t do the situation any justice.

My daughter passing that test is a culmination of four years of hard work. I speak Spanish and I tell others I’m fluent when they ask me–I graduated from a Masters program in Spanish Language Education that was taught primarily in Spanish so clearly I do speak Spanish rather well–but I’m still not at the level I personally want to be. I still feel I have to think too hard to formulate some sentences and that my personality gets lost in the translation.

All that to say, speaking Spanish to my daughter for the past four years has not been easy. It has required painstaking effort and a continual commitment (and renewed commitment) on my part. I made sure she was in a Spanish immersion preschool so she’d have exposure to the language all day at school. I didn’t speak Spanish to her as much as I wanted to, and when her verbal skills in English shot up at age 3.5-4 she started fighting me on it, not only refusing to respond in Spanish but demanding I speak in English. But instead of giving up, I buckled down and vowed to speak more in Spanish and to only read to her in Spanish. After a few months she was feeling confident enough in her Spanish skills that she would always at least attempt to respond in Spanish. In the last six months her Spanish language abilities have skyrocketed and I started realizing that she just might pass the bilingual test I had all but given up on.

The bilingual test is important because it give my daughter a MUCH better chance of getting into one of the extremely impacted Spanish Immersion programs in SFUSD. There are nine programs in the district and luckily six of them are located conveniently enough for us to get to them (though we applied to all nine). The school district tries to populate the immersion classrooms with about a third Spanish speaking students, a third bilingual students and a third English speaking students. At the very least they hope to have half to two thirds of the students be proficient Spanish speakers. With so many English speaking families trying to get their kids into immersion programs, the Spanish speaking spots (which bilingual students are eligible for) are SIGNIFICANTLY less impacted. Basically her chances of getting into an immersion program as an English-only student is a complete crap shoot. (We would quite literally be winning the lottery.) Her chances of getting in as a bilingual Spanish speaker are almost guaranteed (of course nothing is guaranteed at SFUSD).

{SFUSD uses a lottery system that is messed up in ways I can’t even articulate. I’m not going to get into it now, but I will say that it’s in the top two reasons most families leave San Francisco before their kids turn five (along with soaring real estate and rent prices). San Francisco has fewer school-aged children (in proportion to population) than any other urban area in the United States and many would argue it’s because of SFUSD’s lottery system.}

I have spent the past four years stressing about my daughter’s Kindergarten placement. While I could bring her down to my district, I really want her to go to school in San Francisco. I live in San Francisco. I want to support San Francisco schools. And I really, really, REALLY want my daughter educated in a Spanish immersion program. Knowing that she has a much better chance of getting in will make the three month wait much more bearable.

And I will admit, I am pretty damn proud that I gave my daughter enough Spanish to pass the test. I know a lot of her passing is about her own gregarious nature and her ability to talk comfortably to strangers, but none of that would have mattered if she didn’t have the language skills she needed to pass. It’s incredibly gratifying to know that my efforts had a quantifiable effect, especially when that effect will help her future prospects at school.

So I’m taking a moment to pat myself on the back. I set out to raise bilingual children (I even gave my children Spanish names!) and so far I am succeeding. And that feels pretty darn great.

18 Comments

  1. Awesome! My 2nd grader is in a dual immersion program and it is amazing. I minored in Spanish in college and she is already correcting me. I speak with a very Gringa accent but she sounds native like her teacher. I can’t believe how much she us learning! We are now in the process of applying for our Kindergartener as the Spanish programs start in 1st grade. I hope she gets in but we have a weird lottery system as well.

    1. I can’t believe siblings don’t get priority in your district! They definitely do in SFUSD, so if we get our daughter somewhere we like we should have no problem with our son going there as well. It takes a lot of pressure off for the second kid. 😉

  2. I’m so proud of both of you! You have done an amazing job preparing her for the school she is meant to be at- and you should pay yourself on the back. Congratulations!

  3. This is absolutely fantastic. It is everything I HOPED to do with my daughter and have failed miserably at doing. When I read to her in French now, she says “MOMMY, that is NOT what that says.” #Headdesk Ugh. All that to say, I’m super proud of you for sticking with it! I think it’s super hard to help a child be bilingual when it’s not OUR first language either.

    1. I didn’t realize you spoke French! That is awesome.

      I agree that it’s super hard to help a child be bilingual when it’s not our first language language either. I have tried to look at it as a way for me to practice and get better, and I definitely have improved as I’ve spoken it (and read it aloud) more and more. I will also admit that I want my kids to become fluent for selfish reasons as well–then we can all speak Spanish at home and I’ll be able to keep up my language abilities without moving to a Spanish speaking country (which I would love to do but is hard with a husband who doesn’t speak Spanish at all).

      1. Gah- I just realized that I don’t get notifications when you reply to my comments on your blog, so I’ve never read any responses until just now!

        At any rate, yes, I was a French/Business double major in undergrad and actually finished up university in Rennes, France where I obtained my International Business Certificate and did an internship at a hospital there. It was fantastic. I remember when I started waking up from dreams that were in French and thinking about the dreams in French and thinking THIS IS IT. I’ve finally become FLUENT. And now it’s been 10 years and I’ve forgotten so much. It makes me sad. 🙁

    1. That is very cool, and one of the reasons I really want my daughter to be in an immersion program is it will be more diverse than anything she’d experience at my mostly-white upper middle class school district.

  4. good for you! That is really impressive and speaks to an incredible commitment on your part. with ALL the other crap that parenting entails, the fact that you stuck to your guns on this is admirable. Congrats, N.

  5. That is fantastic! Congrats to you both. We were trying to pique E’s interest in French, but she kept telling us to stop. Then her school started doing 3 hours of Spanish a week and she loved it, which made her open up to French again too. Yay!

  6. Wow! I’m definitely impressed. I teach in a dual language program and I’m capable of teaching my daughter Spanish, but I haven’t done it. I had every intention of doing it, but I didn’t follow through. Now I feel like she would really resist if I tried to put her in the dual language program in my district. Good for you and your daughter!!

    1. Thanks! It was definitely a lot harder than I expected to keep it up, but it is so fulfilling now. I hope I can do the same with my son, but already I’m slacking…

  7. I think that’s fabulous. I love languages, and have smatterings of six, with (once, before I forgot) a reasonable capability in at least two of those. I like to think that I’d have taught any children I had at least some of one language. But it takes a real commitment, and I admire you for it. I may have said before, but I have friends who I met in Thailand, who met there and married (she’s from US, he’s Thai) and they raised their kids in the US, with no Thai whatsoever, despite the fact both could speak it. I also have sisters-in-law who speak Chinese (they are ethnic Chinese) and Malay, but none of their children speak any either. I think that’s so sad, and such a lost opportunity.

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