By TERRY WEBSTER
Star-Telegram staff writer
October 21, 2007
HURST -- L.D. Bell High School sophomore Mady Escamilla is one of hundreds of native Spanish-speakers in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford district.
But unlike most of her peers, Escamilla scored a 5 -- the highest possible score -- on an Advanced Placement Spanish exam while she was a freshman at Hurst Junior High School.
The course and the exam, typically given to high school juniors and seniors, requires students to do college-level work, school officials said.
Escamilla's score was high enough to earn her college credit.
It's all part of the state AP Spanish Language Middle School Program.
"The purpose of the class is to encourage students who would never think of taking an AP class, and to give them that confidence once they do well," said Bettye Edgington, H-E-B advanced academics coordinator.
The passing rate of native Spanish-speakers taking the AP Spanish exam is much higher than the passing rate of Anglo students taking the AP English exam, Edgington said.
Escamilla, 14, arrived in the U.S. from Mexico about nine years ago knowing no English. Today, one cannot tell that she was not born and raised here.
"It was pretty tough getting used to everybody and the brand-new culture," she said. "It made it easier that we were in bilingual classes."
Escamilla said an older brother, then in middle school, struggled more than she did because there was no formal program for Spanish-speakers.
At Hurst Junior High, teachers noticed Escamilla's talent for writing and higher-level thinking skills, such as those required in the AP curriculum.
Early in the ninth grade, teachers encouraged her to switch to the AP Spanish class.
"They told me they were going to work with me, and by the end of the year, I would take the [AP] exam," Escamilla said. "I spoke Spanish at home every day, but it's not like I practiced writing and everything."
The end-of-course exam covers grammar, correct verb usage, and writing and speaking Spanish, Escamilla said. Those who score high can receive college credit.
"I really wasn't worried throughout the whole year, but when the day came, and everybody was expecting so much, I wondered, 'What if I don't really meet their expectations?'" she said.
But she exceeded them.
"She was exhausted," said Billie Grawunder, a Spanish teacher at Hurst Junior High. "It was mentally very challenging for her."
Escamilla was among 20 students chosen for the pilot year of the program last year. This year, the district has added 26 ninth-graders, Grawunder said. Scores from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills are used to select the students.
This year, Escamilla is taking classes that will prepare her for the district's International Baccalaureate program, and she may take the IB exam in Spanish this year, allowing her the chance to earn additional college credit.
Escamilla was also among about 20 students from Dallas-Fort Worth who were chosen to meet former Mexican President Vicente Fox when he traveled to the area this month.
"I do owe a lot to my teachers," she said. "I've had some pretty good ones."
Education: Sophomore at L.D. Bell High School
Family: Mother, Lorena; stepfather, Eliseo; two brothers, Rodrigo, 17, a senior at Bell; and Misael, 18, a college student
Hobbies: Art and photography