Frances S Hoch

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Frances Hoch, now a retiree and volunteer at the North Carolina Museum of History, served with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for twenty-four years. She also taught Spanish at Greensboro College and High Point University. In this interview, she uses her vast experience and knowledge to explain the evolution of bilingual education in North Carolina. She enumerates the various approaches that have been used for “world language” instruction, both for native and non-native English speakers. She specifically discusses the rise of two-way immersion programs, the opposition that these programs have overcome and sometimes still face, and the benefits of these programs for students and communities.



[00:00:06] Kendal Thomas: Okay, I’m Kendal Thomas, and I’m here with Frances Hoch in Smithfield at the Brightleaf Market at a pop-up museum with the North Carolina Museum of History. It is April 9th, 2016, and it is 10:46am. Thank you so much for being here, Frances. Just to start off, could you explain how you got involved with the North Carolina Museum of History?
Frances Hoch: Well, when I retired in 2007, I was looking for something to do and got involved with the museum of history as a docent working with—I liked it because I got to work with children, but without lots of responsibility. So, I do about 200 volunteer hours with the museum every year. One of the things, because I speak Spanish, I’ve been able to use my Spanish language skills with a variety of projects and activities that the museum--sometimes it’s merely talking with Spanish-speaking people who come through the museum, but other times it’s working on special projects to reach out to the Latino community. I am a member of the Latino advisory committee of the museum. One of the things we did a few years ago was I put together a Christmas card of Latino Christmas customs. We were doing several cards of holiday customs and I did the Latino card. I’ve also helped look at some of the translations that people have done for some of the documents, guides for the museum, to make sure that the translators, who are officially trained translators, have gotten the right understanding of what the museum is all about.
KT: That’s great. What has been your favorite part of being involved with this organization?
FH: I think that the favorite part is meeting lots of different people, not only from across North Carolina, but really from everywhere, who come into the museum. I enjoy talking with them and sharing the story of North Carolina with them. They’re very nice people to work with at the museum, and we’re always learning new things. There’s lots of variety; it’s never boring. I don’t have to do the same thing every week, and so, for me, that’s fun.
KT: Okay, you said you joined the museum after retiring—
FH: That’s right.
[00:02:51] KT: Can you go back and explain the work you did before retiring?
FH: Yes. I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 1976, and I taught at two private colleges in North Carolina, I taught Spanish primarily. I taught at Greensboro College and then High Point University. But then in 1983, I came to work at the Department of Public Instruction, first as what was called a “foreign language consultant” and then I stayed there for twenty-four years and did a variety of things. I was always involved with the world languages, as they call it now, and English as a second language throughout that time, but also had other responsibilities and became the section chief and part of the leadership staff of instruction services.
[00:03:50] KT: Within the instruction part of your job, can you explain the development of the dual language program, especially in North Carolina?
FH: Well, let me go back really to the eighties, which seems like a long time ago, but--In 19-- I believe it was 1988. No, excuse me, 1985. The state legislature passed something called the basic education program and part of the, the idea behind the basic education program was that children across North Carolina should all be entitled to the very same basic education, that whatever was offered in a wealthy district ought to be made available to everyone. As a result of that, the basic education program mandated expanded programs in the arts, in health and physical education, and in what was then called foreign languages. It required that school districts across the state provide elementary second language instruction for every child in North Carolina and then make available the continuation of the study of that language in middle school and high school. So that was the basic mandate, and at one time we had as many as sixty percent of our elementary children studying a second language. Through a variety of things that happened, all the programs did not remain, and don’t know what the percentage is now, but it’s certainly not sixty percent. Well, school districts had the opportunity to put in any kind of elementary instruction they chose. We had a variety of models, but the choice was up to them. We had a few systems that decided to try something known as an immersion program. The first immersion programs were basically for English-speaking children to be immersed in the study of a second language. There were different kinds of these programs in different parts of the state. The one immersion program that’s still existence is one that was in Greensboro at Jones Elementary and that started out a one-way Spanish program. Then in Charlotte, Charlotte got into the business of language of language immersion a little bit later. [They] started with a German program, then did a Spanish program, but at some point decided they had an opportunity for a brand, and [00:06:39] they decided to take their one-way Spanish immersion and make it a two-way program. What this meant was that fifty percent of the children would be native English-speakers, fifty percent would be native Spanish-speakers, and they would be educated together in the same language from kindergarten—in both languages, rather—from kindergarten to fifth grade. And so that was really the first kind of dual language program that began in North Carolina. I think the last I had seen, in the list there were about sixty programs across the state of North Carolina that were either one-way immersion, or, in most cases, two-way immersion. But the new emphasis for two-way actually came from the increasing numbers, particularly of Latino children, who were coming in to many areas across the state. Of course people were most concerned with students developing English-language skills, particularly reading and writing. What the results from Charlotte were showing, as well as results from other parts of the country, is that these children far surpassed any other non-native speakers of English in achieving the proficiency needed to do academic work in schools. Their test scores were showing, you really almost didn’t even see the difference between the two populations. [Inaudible] improved the scores both of the native Spanish-speakers, as well as the native English-speakers. And so other schools across the state in other school districts that were concerned about educating their non-native English-speakers began getting interested in the whole idea of two-way immersion. The state also got a grant to help develop both the standards for two-way language instruction, and then also got a grant to provide the necessary professional development. One of the issues with two-way language is always finding the teachers who are able to do that, because it’s not that you need language teachers, but you need teachers who in that language can teach the academic curriculum that’s required by the state of North Carolina, and so finding and training teachers has always been a real challenge. Teachers who teach have to have-- have to be licensed in both elementary instruction, or if it’s, if they’re teaching another subject in the upper grades, that particular subject area, as well as to have the second language teaching competencies that are required. So many of the teachers who’ve taught in these programs have been teachers who’ve come in as exchange teachers from other countries. The other group are teachers who are bilingual who have developed the necessary criteria. We actually have had some teachers now who are teaching in these programs who are actually products of having gone to that kind of program when they were in school. The programs have been in existence long enough now. So that’s really how the two-way language program came up. Along with what was happening in the elementary schools, the department of public instruction developed a curriculum for Spanish for native speakers in the high schools because what we were finding was that the students had to have foreign language requirements, and even if their native language was a non-native, you know, was not English, they still had to have requirements in another language and just taking the regular Spanish classes, even at the advanced levels were not enough. And so, the curriculum was developed to help students develop strong literary skills in their native language. Because many of these students spoke Spanish at home, but did not necessarily have the literacy skills that they needed or the understanding of the culture, so that also came along. It’s within that same family of immersion programs, but kind of with a different focus.
[00:11:21] KT: So with the programs that are more focused on fifty-fifty exchange, are there any standards that have been used to ensure that the program benefits both groups equally?
FH: Well, of course, as far as the, you know, all students in these programs have to take the same state tests that are required of all students, and so that’s one of the things to make sure that all students are engaging the way they need to. In many schools, they also give students proficiency tests in, if it’s Spanish—there are immersion schools that are just for Spanish speakers. There’s Chinese and German and French. But there are more Spanish than anything else. So they often have—there are proficiency tests that can be given to make sure that students are achieving, as they need to be. It’s harder for English-speaking students because the only contact they have at Spanish is while they’re at school; they develop strong listening skills and pretty strong reading skills in this. It’s harder to develop the same native language proficiency in speaking, and especially in writing.
KT: Are there any kinds of exchange programs that go along with the actual classroom to develop cultural exchange?
FH: Occasionally schools will do that, but there are a couple things that as far as trying to do real exchange programs, you’ve got to have the money behind it, and when you’re talking about little children, young children, it’s really hard to take young children. They do try, though, to get these children to have experiences in the community. Just like a flea market like this, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a teacher to take kids to something like that. So they look for opportunities within the community to give kids these kinds of immersion experiences, but there’s not a lot of exchange programs. They often now, because technology is so advanced, there are often opportunities for these kids to have different kinds of, not pen pal experiences, but partners in other parts of the world that they can communicate with via Skype or other ways to be able to connect with them. But there are not that many—at high school level there are some exchange opportunities, but not as many as we might like to see.
KT: So did these programs originate at the elementary level? Is that what you were saying?
FH: Yeah, most of the, any of these immersion programs really originated at the elementary level for a variety of reasons. First of all, the earlier you start, the longer you have. Secondly, because of the elementary mandate when some of them began being started, that was another reason for doing it. It’s harder at middle school and high school to have these immersion experiences because you’ve got to have a teacher who’s proficient in the language, but also can teach that particular subject. And so, if you want to teach math in Spanish, that teacher’s got to be proficient in math and proficient in Spanish. And so the demands for teachers are much greater.
KT: Have you seen any push for these types of things at the preschool level? Maybe earlier on?
FH: There are some you will see—I know in the Raleigh area there is a daycare that’s called Spanish for Fun, and so there are some of those things but not nearly as many. I don’t know of any public-funded daycare that does that. It’s hard to get—one of the issues for two-way language immersion is that you’ve got to have enough of both populations, and sometimes it’s hard to get enough students that speak that non-English language to participate to have a full fifty-fifty. Sometimes you want—and if the percentages get kind of out of whack, then it’s not a fifty-fifty program anymore.
[00:15:58] KT: So, other than teachers and school administrators, what other types of people have to be involved in these programs to make them come to fruition?
FH: Obviously the school board has to be in favor and has to understand what those programs are like. One of the things that I did and the people who are still involved at the department of instruction do is to go around to school districts and talk with the administrators and the school boards to help them understand how these programs work. There are also, typically every year, there are a couple conferences that take place in the state to also help people understand. It is also important to have obviously the parents. These programs are voluntary. I don’t believe there are any programs in the state where you require a student to go to that kind of program. So parents have to understand, and it’s not just the parents of the English-speaking kids, but the parents of the other kids, because they have to understand—sometimes they’re concerned that if their kids are being instructed in their native language, they’re not going to learn English enough—so you have to help them to understand how they’re going to learn both of these languages together, and why it’s beneficial for both of the groups of students. So they have to be on board. I think now people—it’s a lot different from when we started. I think the whole view in North Carolina of immigrants in schools is so different from what was like back in the early nineties. People understand that these children are required by law to be educated, that all children have to achieve at a certain level, and so those kinds of things are not in question the way they used to be. So I think there’s much more of an acceptance of this. I mean, one example to think about is Siler City Elementary, which—I remember Siler City in the very early days of the large influx of Latinos when it was very difficult. But they have, they put in a dual language program many years ago that has really succeeded very well. In fact, they have received a special recognition from the government of Spain. They have designated Siler City Elementary as an International Spanish Academy. They only do this to schools that have achieved a certain level of excellence.
KT: Wow, that’s awesome. Going forward, as these programs continue to develop and evolve, how do you see things changing or improving in the future?
FH: Well, I think, for all of us who care about and see the value of people knowing a language other than English, but also having enough proficiency in the language to really be able to communicate, that this can only help our state and our country. Obviously there are opportunities for jobs for people that speak more than one language, so there’s certainly those things, but just having people feel confident in using a language other than English has to be a positive.
KT: Yeah, what types of promotion have been used to get more people on board with this type of education?
[00:19:48] FH: I think it’s the school districts themselves probably have been the best ambassadors, the ones that have had successful programs have been very willing to share what they’ve done. They welcome people to come visit. Some of them, I know at one point, the first program in Charlotte, Collinswood Elementary had so many people wanting to come that they finally had to put a limit on it because they were there in the business of teaching kids, not conducting workshops for people, and so they would limit it to a couple times a year when people could come visit. But when people see, I think seeing kids who come out of these programs and meeting the kids and working with those kids, that’s when people begin to see the real value. [00:20:41] Because this is not something that just other people do to kids, it’s things kids do for themselves. And when you see children being able to use both languages, I think one of the real benefits that you see in dual language programs are the kids helping each other. You will see in the English part of it, the English-speaking kids helping the non English-speaking kids with certain things, helping them with a word if they can’t remember a word. Well you see the very same thing when you move into the other half of the program, and it becomes a positive thing for everybody. One of the things about dual language programs is there’s not a majority language, and so you don’t have those feelings of majority versus minority in those programs.
KT: That’s great. Can you think of any types of opposition that have come up?
[00:21:37] FH: Well, I think we probably need to talk a little bit here about kind of the whole history in North Carolina of working with children whose first language is not English because North Carolina experienced over this period of time an enormous, I guess you would say, an enormous increase. In 1983 when I first went to work for the department of public instruction, there were only about four thousand children who were designated as limited English proficient in the schools, and they were in basically the five major cities. They were in Charlotte and Raleigh and Winston Salem, Greensboro, Fayetteville, and that’s where they were. And the majority were not Spanish speakers, they were Southeast Asians. They were Mong and Vietnamese. Well, as time went on, and we began to have, by the time we got around 1990 where we began to see this major influx and where the numbers were increasing all over the state. Where more and more local districts were experiencing these kids, and we actually had a manual that we had written called Here They Are, What Do We Do? because that was what would happen without warning. All of a sudden, school would open and you’d have this influx of children, and what do we do with them? So that was where we were around 1990. That, from my perspective, was the hard part. It was having to get people to understand that federal law required that these children be given public education, it didn’t matter whether they were here legally or illegally, the law was very clear. There had been a court case against the Department of Education in Texas that had made that very clear. And so, getting people to understand what they’re getting in schools to understand what they were required to do, and then helping them find the best ways to do it. The importance of having translators, the importance of making sure the parents had things where were possible in their native language, all of those these things had to take place. And so that’s—and there was resistance to this, there were people who didn’t think this should be the obligation, and the state of North Carolina was providing no special funds for it. I think one of the things that, there are a couple things that made a difference. The first was when the state of North Carolina started allotting money, which has continued. And so depending—the state does a headcount every Fall, and based on that headcount, school districts receive extra money which helps them pay for extra teachers and for translators and for materials and those kinds of things. So that, I think underscores that not just were they required, but there was some help to make them do it. And then I know No Child Left Behind has been somewhat controversial with some people, but No Child Left Behind also began, for those school districts that have large numbers of children whose first language is not English, they began to get some federal money as well to help do some new innovative programs to help establish newcomer centers, those kinds of things. So there was opposition, but the opposition was much more prevalent twenty years ago than it is now. And hopefully people, I hope the people of the Department of Public Instruction don’t have to go around and underscore the basic civil rights because we’ve been at it long enough for everybody to be aware of these things.
KT: All right, well thank you so much—
FH: You’re welcome!
KT: For all this information. [00:25:55] Is there anything that you think is relevant to this conversation that you haven’t said yet? Anything that still sticks out in your mind as something important?
FH: No, I think realizing—sometimes I think people get frustrated because they want things to be better than they are. And one of the things, when you’re as old as I am is you have this perspective of time, and when you can see where began and where we are now, you can see how much progress we’ve made. And to me that’s a really encouraging thing about all of this. So, no, it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a whole lot better than it was. And with lots of people working together and creating ways for the community to come together, I think that can only lead to progress in our state.
KT: That’s incredible, thank you so much.
FH: You’re welcome!