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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

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Bessie Rhodes parents remain concerned about future of bilingual Two-Way Immersion program

Daily file photo by Oreste Visentini
Bessie Rhodes currently offers the bilingual Two-Way Immersion program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

When Evanston resident Andrea Martinez was picking a school for her son, she had her eyes set on the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, where he could participate in the school’s Two-Way Immersion program. The program allows students to develop literacy and proficiency in both English and Spanish. 

Martinez’s brother had previously attended the school, and Martinez said he benefited from having smaller classes and remaining in the same building from kindergarten to eighth grade. 

But on Jan. 22, the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education voted to begin the process of closing the Bessie Rhodes building — raising questions from parents about the future of the TWI program. 

Martinez said this uncertainty makes it difficult for her and other parents to determine how they will adjust to the potential changes. 

“I had a plan with my kid that I thought I didn’t have to worry (about) and now I do have to worry about, and I would hate for other parents to feel the same way, especially when they’re just barely starting,” she said. 

The TWI program at Bessie Rhodes places students identified as English learners alongside students who are proficient in English so they can receive instruction in both English and Spanish. 

The program served 178 students in kindergarten through fifth grade as of 2023. School officials said District 65 will expand the program by one grade level each school year while Bessie Rhodes remains open, starting with the 2024-25 school year, until it serves all students at the K-8 school.

According to a memo presented by Interim Superintendent Angel Turner at the Jan. 22 meeting, the earliest the building can close is after the 2025-26 school year.

In a statement released to the school community Jan. 26, Turner said the district had not yet determined where Bessie Rhodes students would attend school or where the district would relocate the TWI program after the building closes. 

“Our district remains 100% committed to the TWI program and expanding the dual language program to middle school beginning in sixth grade at Bessie Rhodes next year,” Turner said in the statement. “We are also looking forward to sharing an update on our planning for expanding the dual language program to other middle schools in the coming years.” 

However, some parents — like Evanston resident Ryan Lezcano — remain concerned about the district’s consideration of reducing or eliminating the TWI program. 

A group of parents will begin meeting biweekly to brainstorm ways for the district to listen to their perspectives, according to Martinez. 

The District 65 board also approved a new design plan and budget for a school to be constructed in the 5th Ward at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The Illinois School Code requires the board to hold at least three public hearings before closing the Bessie Rhodes building. Lezcano said the district should pause its plans to close the building until it can clearly communicate what would happen to the TWI program and students who would be affected by the changes. 

“(The district has) time to look at the data in the next six months to a year and say, guess what, we do have room for the K-8 program,” he said. “We want them to do that exercise and convince us that they have done their due diligence.” 

The 5th Ward school was previously set to serve K-8 students but will now serve K-5 students, due to projected budget overruns.

Many Bessie Rhodes parents support the construction of the school but feel the district is putting students at a disadvantage with its inconsistent communication, said Evanston resident Aidé Acosta.

“It’s very problematic that the district has created an atmosphere of misinformation (and) miscommunication and has almost pitted two communities against each other,” Acosta said. “I support the building of a new 5th Ward school, but creating an injustice on another community is not okay.” 

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Related Stories:

District 65 board votes to begin closing process for Bessie Rhodes, approves revised 5th Ward school plan

District 65 board decides to limit new 5th Ward school to grades K-5

Bessie Rhodes parents want TWI separated from 5th Ward school plans

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