Bilingual Education in the South: It Is Happening, Even Here

Innovative dual-language schools are taking root in the South, but big challenges still loom to meet the needs of English learners.

First-grade teacher Vivianne Delgado and her students are learning about butterflies, but they’re also learning to describe and associate in Spanish.
Photo by Dan Carsen, WBHM

In this comprehensive four-part radio series listeners are taken to the American South where many states are ill equipped to serve the needs of the growing number of Latino students who don’t speak English as their first language.

Combining in-depth reporting with analysis and narrative storytelling, Carsen examines the challenges and rewards of providing a good education to the region’s English learners. He visits a dual-language school in Georgia where Latino kids benefit from learning in Spanish and English, and African American kids are starting to speak Spanish. Listeners also learn about a well-funded public school—with a predominantly Latino student body—that teaches kids in three languages: Spanish, Mandarin and English. Throughout the series, Carsen explores why dual-language education isn’t more common in the South—and what must be done to address this growing need.

This radio series aired on NPR member station WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama on May 4-8, 2015.

PRI published Dan Carsen’s radio series on its website from December 1 through December 4, 2015.

Read a Q&A with Dan about the series, published in Weld, an Alabama weekly.

Dan Carsen received the 2016 Media Award for Radio Coverage of Family Issues from the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) for this series.

Story Links

Part 1: Bilingual education in the South: It’s happening even here

States, such as Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee—with little experience in bilingual education—are grappling with how best to provide a quality education to their growing Spanish-speaking student population.

Part 2: Another program across the border (in Georgia)

As public schools become more linguistically diverse, some see dual language programs as a way to improve education for all—including English speakers.

Part 3: The hurdles

Students who don’t speak English as their first language are some of the most socially and economically disadvantaged in the South. This story takes a closer look at the challenges facing the students and educators.

Part 4: Enormous economic consequences

The series concludes with a hard look at the social and economic consequences if the South fails to adequately address the educational needs of English learners.

Dan Carsen is a public radio education reporter. Since 2011, he has filed radio and Web stories for The Southern Education Desk; WBHM, a public radio station in Birmingham, Alabama; and National Public Radio. His previous work experience includes being a newspaper reporter, a Teach For America teacher, a freelance writer, and an editor for an educational publishing house. His writing and reporting have won numerous state, regional and national awards.