Friday, November 06, 2015

San Antonio praised as national model for bilingual education

I love to hear great news like these.  Bilingual education not only "works," but it nourishes the souls for those of us that emanate from Spanish-speaking families and communities.  Glad to learn about New America, a Washington-based think tank, which is documenting best practices in dual-language instruction nationwide.  Check out their report released last Friday titled, “Boomtown Kids.”  It praises San Antonio’s approach to dual-language education.

San Antonio praised as national model for bilingual education:Group says S.A. programs set great examples

October 30, 2015 Updated: October 30, 2015 9:35pm
Cristina Morales is only 6, but she already speaks English, some Spanish and some German. English is her main language — but she likes that her first-grade class at Adams Elementary School is taught mostly in Spanish.
“I really want to talk to my grandma, because she doesn’t understand English,” Cristina said. “I want to talk to my grandma and grandpa and tío and tía.”
New America, a Washington-based think tank, released a report Friday praising San Antonio’s approach to educating “dual-language learners” like Cristina. Titled “Boomtown Kids,” the report is the first in a series of regional profiles by a work group that is documenting nationwide best practices in dual-language instruction.
The percentage of dual-language learners is increasing exponentially in states including South Carolina, Kentucky and Delaware, where waves of immigration are recent phenomena, according to the report. Conor P. Williams, the work group’s founder, said those types of places can learn from San Antonio.
“Fortunately, communities wrestling with new linguistic diversity in their schools do not have to invent their own best practices from scratch,” Williams wrote in the report. “There are districts across the country — frontiers of integration — with a long history of supporting language learners in their schools.”
The report said thoughtful, holistic strategies in dual-language instruction can be seen particularly at Harlandale Independent School District, where Cristina attends; Northside ISD; the city’s Pre-K 4 SA program; and the Eastside Promise Neighborhood.
The programs have not been around long enough to generate conclusive data, but research shows instructional models that support students’ home languages are better than English-only models, Williams said in a phone interview.
“It’s a really encouraging experience to see multilingualism just on the streets,” Williams said. “It makes me feel better about the country I inhabit. I’d like to believe that that’s a future we’d choose.”
In Harlandale, traditional bilingual programs have been converted into “dual-immersion” classrooms, where first-graders learn 90 percent in Spanish. The Spanish-language portion drops every year until it hits 50 percent in the fourth grade.
The district’s first dual-immersion students are in middle school now, where they achieve high scores on science assessments in English despite having been taught science in Spanish, said Rosa Palafox-Torres, the district’s coordinator for dual- language instruction.
“It’s very efficient, very effective in allowing them to learn content,” she said. “A lot of the skills transfer. All you have to do is assign a new label to it.”
Mary-Helen Romero, who teaches first grade at Adams, became a bilingual teacher more than 20 years ago after substituting at McCollum High, where she taught a group of Honduran students who were ashamed to speak Spanish.
Romero saw echoes of her own past. As a Spanish-speaker in first grade, she once spent a whole day wondering how to return a nickel that her mother had borrowed from her teacher, because she didn’t know how to say, “Here is your nickel” in English. She dropped Spanish and didn’t relearn it until college, but students should be proud to speak it, she said.
Nearly every inch of Romero’s classroom walls are plastered with Spanish vocabulary words, though half her class speaks English at home. On Wednesday, all 22 students split into small groups, with a different interactive Spanish vocabulary lesson for each.
Harlandale’s main challenge in expanding the program has been finding enough truly bilingual teachers. Palafox-Torres hopes some of those jobs will be filled by the district’s own dual-immersion graduates.
Esparza Elementary in Northside ISD has offered a similar “90-10” dual-immersion model for more than a dozen years, while Villarreal Elementary offers a 50-50 balance between Spanish and English, according to the report. Villarreal’s program is bolstered by literacy software, dual-language activities such as cooking and storytelling, and an instructional assistant who works with kindergartners before school.
Last school year, about 12 percent of students in the citywide Pre-K 4 SA program were dual-language learners. At the North Center, children arrived speaking 17 different languages, including Russian and Turkish. The center runs a comprehensive English as a Second Language program, and both it and the South Center run two bilingual Spanish-English classrooms, the report states.
The program also focuses on family engagement, which is especially important for parents who don’t speak English and who might “struggle to take advantage of early education opportunities for their children for a variety of reasons: linguistic barriers, socioeconomic pressures, low parental literacy rates and more,” Williams wrote.
The six San Antonio ISD schools in the Eastside Promise Neighborhood report dual-language enrollments between 10 percent and 31 percent, according to Williams’ report. The district has other dual-language campuses, but the location in the federally designated zone helped secure grants to fund after-school oral langauge programs and parent rooms to help families support their kids’ linguistic development.
The Promise Zone is also supporting SAISD’s Engineering Fridays, with hands-on projects that help dual-language learners develop social and content-specific vocabulary, according to the report.

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