Dual Immersion key classroom method

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Sep 12 12:38:31 UTC 2005

>>From the Whittier (Calif.) Daily News
Article Last Updated: 9/11/2005 09:35 PM

Dual immersion key classroom method

By Tracy Garcia, Staff Writer
Whittier Daily News

WEST WHITTIER -- Just two days after kicking off a new school year,
Phyllis Martinez's second-grade class at Aeolian Elementary School already
had settled into a familiar groove. One group of students was reading,
another was learning vocabulary words, and several approached Martinez for
her help -- at which point, she put aside what she was doing to ask, "Que
pasa?" "Puedo ver las tarjetas?" one boy asked, motioning to the flash
cards he wanted to look at in the corner of the room. "Si, pero tienes que
tornear," Martinez said, encouraging the youngster to take turns sharing
the cards with classmates.

Spanish in the mornings, English in the afternoons --that's how every day
plays out in Martinez's class, one of several dual-immersion classes that
have popped up in the Whittier area. This year, no matter what language
they speak, hundreds of kindergartners countywide will be taught primarily
in Spanish as part of dual-immersion programs in three area school
districts: Los Nietos, Norwalk-La Mirada Unified and Montebello Unified.

By fifth grade, these students will be completely bilingual, biliterate
and bicultural --attributes expected to give them an advantage as adults
in a diverse society. And the initial struggle to study in two languages
is expected to increase their brain power and academic prowess. Montebello
Intermediate is the latest local school to be added to the growing list of
184 dual-immersion programs in the state, including 56 in Los Angeles

Unlike bilingual classes, which have declined since the passage of the
English-instruction-only Proposition 227 in 1998, dual-immersion classes
provide instruction in all subjects in two languages, regardless of
whether the children are native English or Spanish speakers. As
kindergartners, dual-immersion classes begin on a 90/10 immersion model --
90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English -- and it's all done
according to state standards.

Then, officials say, English instruction goes up 10 percent each year
starting in the first or second grade until it hits a 50/50 model by the
fourth or fifth grade. "For Spanish speakers who start the program, it is
enforcing their language and teaching them in the language they already
communicate in,"  said Maria Ortiz-Lopez, who helps coordinate the
dual-immersion program at Edmondson Elementary School in Norwalk.

"Once kids know how to read, then they're readers. If they can read in
Spanish, it's just a matter of transferring those skills to English,
because they already know the sounds and blends of the letters,"
Ortiz-Lopez said. Research has shown that while students don't hit the
ground running in the first few years of the program, they begin to
perform as well as or better than their English-only peers by the
fourth-grade level.

"The kids really do well -- I do want to say that," Ortiz-Lopez said.
"It's impressive to see their progress, seeing them writing well in
Spanish and English. And I think we'll see more of that." About 36
dual-immersion programs are added in the state each year, said Veronica
Aguila, manager of the California Department of Education's Language
Policy and Leadership Office. Between 1980 and 1986, the first two-way
immersion programs in California were started in Malibu, Oakland, San
Jose, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Windsor.

Most Whittier-area dual-immersion programs have been operating for at
least five years. Now, officials are looking to expand their programs to
the middle- and high school levels to accommodate the older students who
piloted the programs in kindergarten. That's the case in Montebello, where
officials just established a new fifth-grade immersion class at Montebello
Intermediate School and a sixth-grade class at La Merced Intermediate.
"Our hope is that as freshmen they will take a Spanish for Spanish
speakers class, which is about a Level 3," said JoAnne Slater, coordinator
of the district's bilingual cross-cultural education.

"Then maybe as juniors, they'll take an Advanced Placement
Spanish-language class and AP English. And as seniors, they'll take AP
Spanish literature and AP English literature," Slater said. "That's our
vision: for them to graduate with high levels of academic English and
Spanish." Dual-language instruction also could help reduce the growing
Latino dropout rate. Language is often a barrier to learning, and students
would have an opportunity to learn in their native language as well as
English, said Teresa Marquez-Lopez, director of the Center for Innovation
and Research for Multilingual Education and the Two Way Immersion
Biliteracy Specialist Institute at UC Riverside.

In 2000, about 1.6 million Americans ages 16 to 19 were not high school
graduates, 34 percent of them Latinos. The figure grew from 22 percent in
1990, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Some
educators say more Latino students drop out because they did not learn
English at an early age and struggled through school. Eventually,
dual-immersion classes could become a required part of the state
educational curriculum, Marquez-Lopez said. "As parents, we put all our
resources into children to help them do their best," she said. "We need to
do that with schools, as well."

In the meantime, most local dual-immersion programs ask for at least a
five-year commitment from parents -- long enough for children to begin
seeing the benefits of their bilingualism. At Aeolian, Martinez recalled
that last year a Chinese third-grader in the immersion program handled the
sale of her parents' pickup truck because she was the only one in the
family who knew how to speak Spanish. Aeolian fifth-graders Kimberly
Moreno, 10, and Joaquin Vasquez, 10, said they've translated medical and
school information to their parents, who speak little or no English,
countless times since they were kindergartners.

"Being in this class, it will help us our whole lives," said Stephanie
Alvarez, 10. "Being able to speak both English and Spanish will help us
accomplish a lot more."

-- Staff Writer Stacia Glenn contributed to this story. Tracy Garcia can
be reached at (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3051, or by e-mail at
tracy.garcia at sgvn.com.


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