Skip to comments.¿Habla Español? Your kids may soon
Posted on 12/01/2003 4:51:49 PM PST by gubamyster
BBy STEVE HOWIE
MOUNT VERNON The school district is studying the possibility of converting one or more of its six elementary schools into dual language programs where the day is divided between lessons in Spanish and English for all students.
"Research says that's the best delivery model," Superintendent Mack Armstrong said. "Then the question is, Why wouldn't we do it?"
Armstrong's enthusiasm for the idea follows a visit to the district two weeks ago by Richard Gomez, bilingual education director for the state education department in Olympia.
In the last three years, Gomez has spearheaded efforts to create 17 dual language schools in the state, primarily in eastern Washington. In his previous job in Texas, he helped establish 50 of the schools.
"I think it would be an excellent fit for Mount Vernon," Gomez said. "It offers a superior academic program and a superior linguistic program."
A dual language program, also known as two-way immersion, is different from traditional schools that teach students who speak languages other than English. In a dual language school, fourth-graders might learn math in Spanish and social
studies in English regardless of the language spoken at home.
The model promoted by Gomez transforms a school grade by grade until the entire curriculum is taught in both Spanish and English and students are equally adept at both languages.
The Burlington School District is considering starting such a program next school year at West View Elementary School. According to the 2000 census, one out of every four residents in Mount Vernon and Burlington is Hispanic.
The transformation to a dual language program begins gradually. A school starts by converting its kindergarten and possibly first grade to the Spanish-English format, continuing with the second grade the following year, and third grade the year after that, until the entire school is bilingual.
Within each grade, students have some subjects in Spanish and others in English. Each classroom is divided equally between Spanish and English speakers and, within each class, students are encouraged to serve as translators for their peers.
Supporters point to a growing amount of research that shows dual language programs lead to higher test scores for both English- and Spanish-speaking students.
While parents tend to be hesitant about risking their children's education on such a radical change, many change their tune once they see the results, Gomez said.
One of the best endorsements for bilingual schools is that most of the existing schools now have waiting lists of parents who want their children involved, he said.
A nationwide study six years ago by two Virginia researchers found that the dual language program was the most effective way for non-English speakers to become fluent.
Ideally, English-speaking students gain a second language as well, and both groups improve scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL.
"Students who have been in this program from kindergarten to the time that they take the WASL have surpassed the other kids in regular school," said Arturo Vivanco, migrant/bilingual coordinator for Mount Vernon schools. "It starts as a language program and it turns into an academic program and that's what our parents want."
Addressing the needs of a growing Hispanic population is becoming a critical issue for many Mount Vernon elementary schools.
Many schools with large Hispanic and migrant populations suffer from low WASL scores largely because student performance is assessed on a test given in English, when a large portion of their students speak primarily Spanish.
Even if students learn English, they often have trouble translating the content in subjects such as science and social studies, both in their day-to-day classes and on the annual state exam.
Armstrong said the dual language model effectively would eliminate the language barrier and increase learning for Spanish- and English-speaking students.
"Both students are getting a foreign language. Both students are getting primary content in their primary language," Armstrong said. "So, there's a benefit for all students involved."
Principals who heard Gomez's presentation stressed that the discussion is in its early stages. But several school leaders also said they were interested in studying how the model would work at their schools.
"With our demographics at Centennial, we're a perfect candidate for doing a program like that," said Alan McDonald, who is in his third year as principal of Centennial Elementary School, where 54 percent of the students are Hispanic. "It's just that it would be difficult for us to have the staff to implement it."
Gomez said hiring enough bilingual teachers is typically the biggest concern and the most difficult obstacle for schools making the leap to a dual language program.
Centennial has four classes in each grade. That means the school would have to hire two Spanish-speaking teachers a year until the program is fully implemented.
Centennial currently has three teachers capable of teaching in Spanish, but finding qualified staff year after year is a difficult challenge, McDonald said.
"Not only do you want them to be bilingual, you want them to be your best candidates," he said. "That's the tough part."
Of all Mount Vernon elementary schools, Madison has the largest percentage of Hispanic students at 68 percent. Two-thirds of Madison's Hispanic students are migrants.
Like many schools that have a large number of English-language learners, Madison uses a "pullout program." Teachers pull non-English speaking students out of their regular classroom for part of the day to work on English language development.
About 10 years ago, the school attempted to implement a program similar to the dual language approach where English- and Spanish-speaking students were taught in both languages, but school officials had difficulty finding enough bilingual teachers, Principal Evelyn Morse said.
Morse said she is interested in trying the switch again. But she wants to watch Burlington's West View Elementary School before taking the leap.
"We're not just looking at it because we have a high migrant bilingual population," Morse said. "We're looking at it because it's a good program."
West View Elementary may be the first in Skagit County to switch to a full bilingual school. Burlington administrators are in the final stages of studying dual language programs and plan to make a presentation to the School Board later this month. About half of West View students are Hispanic.
West View Principal Doug Banner, several West View teachers, two board members and Superintendent Rick Jones are in South Texas this week, visiting a number of dual language schools.
While Burlington is going through its School Board, Mount Vernon's Armstrong said board approval would not be required to start a bilingual program in his district.
"It is unique enough that having board understanding on it is healthy," Armstrong said. "But we don't need a vote."
Armstrong has experience implementing a bilingual program at his previous job in Shelton, about 25 miles northwest of Olympia.
Evergreen Grade School in Shelton has one of the longest running dual language programs in the state.
Three years ago, the school expanded its English-Spanish format from one classroom per grade to a schoolwide program.
While parents in the small logging town were suspicious of the program at first, not a single student has transferred from the school since the conversion, Principal Steve Warner said.
"It's a big leap. I can understand a little hesitancy," Warner said. "It's hard for us as adults to understand the capacity that kids have for learning languages."
Steve Howie can be reached at 360-416-2135 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
How about revolt in the streets???!!!!
Why not Russian instead. There are more Russian speakers in the world than French and German speakers combined....
I would MUCH RATHER see classes in computer science, basic engineering, and math....you know, so the students could get a stinkin' job when they graduate.
We don't need no stinkin' jobs!
The Fed will take care of us!
The Bush Administration isn't helping matters very much, is it?
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