Spanish-speakers are our kids

The Washoe County School District’s plan to launch a dual-language, English/Spanish pilot program for kindergarten and first grade students is a step in the right direction to help our community’s Spanish-speaking children. The success of the Mariposa Academy of Language and Learning charter school suggests that such a program should have been launched years ago.

Some begrudge spending tax money on programs they view as not for Americans. These are often the same people who get upset about Latinos in America who can’t speak English. They want them to learn English, but are unwilling to give them the means to do so. They hope that perhaps these children will just go away or magically integrate.

This form of thinking leads to children who, due to their not knowing English, are also uneducated.

An essay by Deborah Simmons in the Washington Times this month says, “While local governments, educrats and the unenlightened continue to make it a top priority for people from other lands to ‘learn’ English, what about the children whose American roots run as deep as a Live Oak?”

Let it be firmly understood: Spanish-speaking children born in America are Americans. Most are here to stay. These are our kids. They are a large part of our country’s future—and future workforce—and it’s both wrong and foolish to ignore them or leave them to struggle for themselves. It is in everyone’s best interests to give them our time, attention, and yes, funding. Such programs do not leave “American” kids behind to serve “foreigners.” They are a realistic look at who makes up our country now, and who makes up its future.

The U.S. Census projects that by 2050, half of the nation will be Anglo, 25 percent Hispanic (Washoe County has nearly reached that figure already, at 20 percent), 15 percent African-American, and 8 percent Asian.

The role of education in decreasing crime, poverty and improving the economy is well documented for all social and ethnic groups. It is no different for Spanish speakers—more than 20 percent of whom tend to drop out of school, according to the Census.

No one is saying to stop teaching English. Nearly no one is calling for Spanish to become the national language. This is about looking at changing demographics and being realistic.

And while we’re at it, it’s not a bad idea for English speakers to learn Spanish. Bilingual speakers are becoming increasingly necessary in any industry that involves human interaction. Learning Spanish also reduces the most common source of friction among speakers of different languages: fear of the unknown. Knowing both Spanish and English can turn fear and frustration into communication, cultural exchange and sometimes friendship.