(Aug. 1, 2018) Catherine Read sits down with FCPS Providence District School Board member Dalia Palchik. Dalia speaks candidly about her background as an immigrant coming to this country at the tender age of six, and about her experience as a non-English speaking student in Fairfax County Public Schools, as well as the work she is doing to help all students in the county in her current role as School Board member.
Dalia’s family immigrated to the United States from Argentina In 1992. She, along with her mother and siblings, came to the United States to meet her father who had been working here in Virginia. They were thrilled when they were finally granted citizenship, and had the opportunity to build a better life for themselves in Virginia. As they assimilated to their new country, a new language, and a new life they worked hard to navigate the system and learn a new culture.
Dalia entered school speaking no English, and received ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) services. She is thankful for her wonderful teachers, and for having the opportunity to come to this country. As her family settled in and adjusted to life in America, it was Dalia who learned how to navigate the ins and outs of the school system and help her parents understand the culture of the school, how it all worked, and how to access opportunities. She felt as if she were the parent in their relationship at the time. Dalia eventually went on to graduate from the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School, and earned a scholarship to Tufts University, where she majored in International Affairs. Professionally, she traveled all over the world to help organizations tackle the big issues of poverty and hunger.
After a long stint away from home, Dalia returned to Fairfax County, and looked around at the ever growing diverse community here in Fairfax had an epiphany about how she could make an impact.As she is fluent in 4 languages (English, Spanish, French and Italian), Dalia became language teacher and eventually ran for School Board, in the hopes of giving all kids the same excellent opportunities that she had as a child. She strongly believes that all children in Fairfax should have access to a world-class education, no matter where you live or what your family circumstances are.
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is the 10th largest school system in the country, with almost 190,000 students walking though the doors every day. It is a culturally rich and diverse community, with a socioeconomically diverse student body. There are 48 Title 1 schools in FCPS, and Dalia mentions that it is important to understand the challenges and hurdles that these students face. She believes it is imperitive to put policies in place to make sure that these students are able to succeed. The One Fairfax policy that was recently adopted by both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors, is designed to look broadly from community services to education, to address the needs of our most vulnerable residents. Its purpose is to intentionally, comprehensively and systematically break down barriers that are creating gaps in opportunity (quote website).
As a foreign language teacher herself, Dalia spoke passionately with Catherine about the importance of teaching languages to students in FCPS, especially the elementary students. As our children are being raised in a global economy, these skills are becoming more and more important. Currently, there are only 17 language immersion programs being offered in Fairfax County, where half of the school day (math and science) is taught in the target language. Dalia notes that there are specific challenges to maintaining these World Language programs, with recruitment and retainment of staff as one of the largest obstacles, but she would like to see increased access so more students can take advantage of these programs. FCPS is also looking into dual immersion programs in certain schools where there is a majority Spanish speaking population. There are currently 25 elementary schools that fit the profile for these programs.
Dalia is also very excited about a new position that is being created this year, the Family and Student Ombudsman, to help students and families better navigate the school system. Armando Peri, a former principal, will serve as a chief problem-solver, who can review cases and help advocate for students who are experiencing issues from diversity challenges to special needs. The goal of this position is to bring parties together to come up with viable and effective solutions. Dalia continues to look for opportunities to help solve problems and bring students, teachers and parents together to make positive changes for the FCPS school system.