The proposal to move Spanish classes at Pueblo Central High School to an online model remains a contested one after dozens of students and parents marched outside the Pueblo School District 60 administration building Wednesday.
“It’s not fair,” said Malia Espinoza, a senior at Central High School. “Yes, the world isn’t fair but we do have a voice and we do have a choice on what we want and what we do not want.”
For the 2020-21 school year, Central High School plans to discontinue all in-person Spanish instruction in the transition to an online course. A statement released by Pueblo School District 60, the district said it was committed to continuing Spanish instruction at Central, but cited budget concerns as a reason for the transition.
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“Each year, our school leaders are tasked with making very difficult decisions regarding program offerings and none of them are taken lightly,” according to the statement. “D60 shares in the commitment to maintain a Spanish program offering at Central. We will continue to explore innovative solutions to continue to offer comprehensive programming during ongoing and significant budget cuts to state public education funding.”
However, student protestors are objecting to the decision; claiming that Spanish has the highest enrollment of three world language courses offered at Central and is a language important to Pueblo’s heritage. Espinoza also said an online course model would be inadequate in teaching students a second language.
“You’re just sitting there on a computer,” said Malia Espinoza, event organizer and student at Central High School. “You’re not getting the full in-person experience. You’re not really learning to the deepest extent that you can. It’s just trying to get you a lousy credit or a lousy grade that passes you through high school. That’s not what education is about.”
Protestors outside the District 60 administration building were also vocal about the schools Chicano Studies program Wednesday evening. Protestors allege the district had at one point proposed eliminating the program, but decided to keep it after a series of complaints from parents and students.
“Before everything started getting out and about to the community, they had spoke to the teacher stating that she, Dr. (Elizabeth) Blatten was no longer going to be teaching the general Chicano studies class,” Espinoza said. “The minute that word got out… people started calling in and saying that this is an issue that is not going to be accepted.”
However, District 60 denied claims of ever considering changes to Central’s Chicano Studies program in its press statement.
“We are committed to continuing to offer Spanish at Central, however, the program is being transitioned to a digital learning platform,” according to the statement. “Conversely, the Chicano Studies Program at Central was never presented for changes in the coming school year.”
Despite the District’s denial of proposing changes for Chicano studies, Espinoza said she and fellow student protestors are remaining vocal in their protests about the importance of a Chicano studies program at Central, a school where 70 percent of the student body identifies as Hispanic.
“One of the main things I learned in Chicano studies from Dr. Aragon-Blatton is that the minute they take your education is the minute that you no longer have any voice or any power,” Espinoza said. “If they are removing our education, if they are removing the things that they believe in, they are shutting us down.”
According to the “Save the Spanish Program at Pueblo Central High School” Facebook page, a Colorado Open Record Request revealed that total enrollment for Spanish 1 and 2 classes at Central were 109 at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Enrollment for Spanish exceeded end-of-the-year totals of 90 and 64 for Italian and Spanish courses respectively.
While enrollment numbers in Spanish may be the highest of any world language class, Central parent Micheal Santistevan said the Spanish program also has a high student withdrawal rate. Initial enrollment for Spanish 1 was 103 and dropped to 86 by the end of the year. Likewise, enrollment for Spanish 2 declined from 32 to 23 students.
“Look at the percentage of students that have withdrawn from Spanish versus the other classes,” Santistevan said. “Pueblo is a Spanish speaking community. Who does not want to take Spanish? That’s a wonderful thing that the students should be taking if they want to take, but once they are in there, a lot of them withdraw.”
Santistevan said he supports the decision to move Spanish courses online as he believes more students will enroll and stay enrolled in the online course. According to Santistevan, many incoming freshmen at Central refuse to enroll in Spanish because of the program’s poor reputation.
“I’m glad to see them offer the online class because now, you are going to see more students take the class because they are comfortable and they are going to learn Spanish language the way they want to,” Santistevan said. “So many have lost the opportunity because they won’t take the class.”