2 is better than 1
Fredericksburg Independent School District’s dual language program is making strides at the Fredericksburg Primary and Elementary campuses.
The dual language program began at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
For two years before the program began, a committee of teachers researched the program and shared ideas on its implementation along with former assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Dr. Celina Estrada Thomas. (Last year, she accepted a job as superintendent of the Hutto ISD.)
The committee found the program that most suited the district and it was presented at a school board meeting in May 2017.
Currently, students being serviced are monolingual that come from Spanish-speaking homes.
Around one in 10 American students is classified as a “language learner,” and almost one in four American children speaks a language other than English at home, studies show. While immigration patterns are related to the growth of English language learners in American schools, they are not the whole story: more than 75 percent were born in the United States.
The program’s aim is to begin teaching students the English language early on.
But the long-term goal for the one-way program is to open to a two-way program that would combine native Spanish and native English speakers, with both languages used for instruction.
“I expect them to read and write in both languages,” said FPS first-grade teacher Madi Findley. “The ultimate goal is to have the students become bi-literal to have not just the language skills but also to read, write and communicate, speak and listen in both languages.”
Classes alternate languages daily. Outside the classrooms, a sign alerts which language is being spoken in the classroom.
“They have content classes in both languages. The idea is to have our kids be bilingual and starting their English skills now, whereas most dual language programs will start their English later on,” FPS kindergarten teacher Oneida Jacobo said.
Students are learning math, science, reading and social studies content in both languages.
Confidence is key
With a little over a semester under their belts, teachers, teaching assistants and principals say they have made headway in the program.
In pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grades, there are two classes of dual language program participants. In pre-K, there are 16 students, kindergarten has 25 students, first grade has 24 students and second grade at FES has 25 students.
The beginning lessons are not always easy, but the strides that have been made thus far show the program is heading for success.
“We have a student that had no English experience at all at the beginning of the year and now she is reading in English and in Spanish,” kindergarten teacher Lili Guzman Weber said. “We are really proud of her because she tries and is motivated. Each student is different. But we can see that doing instruction one day in English and one day in Spanish is helping them.”
Dr. Delesa Styles, FPS principal, touched on how confident the students have become this year.
“Regardless of whether it’s a Spanish or English day, they quietly have conversations with me in English which is new for us this year,” Styles said. “They have always attempted to have conversations with me, but their confidence level this year is fascinating.”
“They just initiate the conversations. They are excited to see me, talk to me about what they are doing, and show me their work,” Styles said. “That is one of the biggest changes I have noticed in the short time in this program. We only have a semester under our belt technically, but it is very powerful to see.”
Findley says the implementation of the program has boosted the confidence of the students and teachers alike.
“I have learned a lot. But I think in the end, it is what’s best for them because you really want them to have both languages,” Findley said. “We want them to be able to keep their first language because it’s a part of their culture and also to want them to learn a new language.”
Sharing English at home
Jacobo indicated the students’ English learning is being carried into the homes and some students are putting their English to good use in helping their families.
Jacobo said one non-English-speaking parent was concerned her daughter would fall behind while learning English. The parent said her daughter now has the confidence to help her grocery shop and ask for help when English is being spoken.
“We always hope as teachers to not just help our kids academically, but to help them grow as people and to be able to see that and have someone tell us that. I can see it at home and it just makes my day,” Jacobo said.
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