By Minh-Duc Pham
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
Since 1980, the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center (SBOC) has served immigrant and refugee students who have recently arrived in Seattle speaking little or no English. This school’s future is unclear.
The school district has proposed moving it into what is now the Meany Middle School building, along with another high school program. This proposed move would not only displace Meany Middle School students, but it would also limit the SBOC’s role in serving the needs of our city’s teenage English language learners.
A recent audit of Seattle’s bilingual educational programs recommends that the SBOC become a four-year high school from which students could graduate. This dedicated school would work in partnership with local community colleges and other agencies to help immigrant students prepare for higher education and vocations. If the SBOC were to be housed with another school program in Meany Middle School, there would not be room for this expansion.
SBOC staff and community supporters note that a closed campus environment is necessary to protect and monitor the welfare of recent immigrants who are beginning to adjust to American life. They are concerned that it would be impossible to maintain this level of supervision if the SBOC shares a building with another high school program that has an open campus environment.
In 2006, the school district promised Seattle’s ethnic communities that the SBOC would remain an independent, stand-alone school in a building that is suitable for high school education. This commitment was summarized in a board action document that confirmed that the school would remain in its current location until a suitable site is identified.
The school district has proposed canceling this agreement in order to house the SBOC with another high school. District officials have stated that the proposed move would save money by closing two buildings.
They suggest that the move would also benefit SBOC students by putting them in contact with students whose first language is English. SBOC staff and community supporters contest this assumption, noting that the school’s educational program provides regular daily contact with native speakers of English who focus on reinforcing educational objectives while modeling correct, standard English.
On Jan. 29, the Seattle School Board will vote on the proposal to rescind the 2006 board agreement and move the SBOC in with another high school program. Community members are welcome to provide input to board members on this issue.
Letters can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors, P.O. Box 34165, MS 11-010, Seattle, WA 98124-1165. The School Board phone number is 206-252-0040 and the fax number is 206-252-0101. ■
Minh-Duc Pham is the executive director of Helping Link and can be reached at email@example.com.