Caminantes Program Leader Urges Amherst School Committee to Sustain and Expand Bilingual Initiative Despite Loss of State Grant
AMHERST — The future of the highly successful dual-language program, Caminantes, at Fort River School is in jeopardy as the Amherst School District grapples with the loss of a crucial state grant. Katie Richardson, the district’s multilingual educator and leader of the Caminantes program, has called on the Amherst School Committee to reaffirm its commitment to the program’s sustainability and expansion.
Caminantes, launched in 2019 for kindergartners, has been funded by grants from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, providing essential support for curriculum materials, staff training, and program development. However, with the recent loss of state funding, Richardson emphasizes the need for the district to explore sustainable alternatives to keep the program flourishing.
Richardson presented to the committee last week, highlighting the program’s success in meeting the needs of students enrolled in it. The dual-language initiative operates with up to 40 students in each K-4 grade at Fort River School, promoting bilingualism and biliteracy. Half the day is dedicated to instruction in Spanish, and the other half in English, with core subjects strategically taught in both languages.
Despite the program’s achievements, challenges lie ahead. Funding concerns are just one aspect; Caminantes also faces the task of expanding to sixth grade and integrating into Amherst Regional Middle School in the fall of 2025 and 2026, respectively. Additionally, the program must adapt to the opening of a new elementary school at the Fort River site in 2½ years.
The loss of grants, which were approximately $500,000 annually over five years, poses a significant setback for Caminantes and the Western Massachusetts Bilingual Hub at the University of Massachusetts. Richardson emphasizes the importance of maintaining the program, as it aligns with district goals of hiring diverse staff, closing the opportunity gap, and providing innovative and multicultural education.
Caminantes has shown remarkable outcomes, improving language and literacy skills. Richardson reports that 59% of all Caminantes students achieve intermediate Spanish proficiency by the end of third grade. In terms of literacy, around 60% of students in third and fourth grade are at or above grade level in both Spanish and English.
Sociocultural competence is another area where the program has excelled, fostering connections across linguistic, racial, and class differences. The elevation of the Spanish language’s status has been a notable achievement, with students feeling more comfortable and recognizing its value.
Public comments to the School Committee reflected concerns about funding and future plans for Caminantes. Teachers, parents, and community members emphasized the program’s positive impact on students’ pride in their heritage and the need for additional opportunities for Spanish language practice outside the school.
As the School Committee navigates the challenges ahead, it remains to be seen how Amherst will address the funding crisis and ensure the sustainability and expansion of the Caminantes dual-language program.
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