North Carolina: Spanish children's books fulfill dual-language goals

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Aug 31 12:41:02 UTC 2007

Spanish children's books fulfill dual-language goals By: Andy Kenney, Staff
Writer *Issue date:* 8/29/07 *Section:*

Students in the kindergarten classes at Carrboro Elementary School walked
away from their first day of school Monday with some interesting reading

"La Oruga Muy Hambrienta" might not ring a bell, but perhaps "The Very
Hungry Caterpillar" does. Each student received both an English and Spanish
edition of Eric Carle's children's book, which has sold 12 million copies
since 1969.

"If you get presented with a Spanish book that you're not fluent enough to
read, it opens up a whole new world," said parent Kirsten Barker, who first
brought the idea to the school last spring. Barker has two students at
Carrboro Elementary and is on the school-improvement team.

The book program is part of the school's continuing efforts to raise
literacy test scores and is typical of the school's bilingual culture, where
the automated phone service helps visitors in both English and Spanish. Most
signs in the school are posted in both languages. Principal Emily Bivins
said about one-third of the school's population speaks Spanish at home.

Data from Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools indicate that at the start of
the last school year, 96 of the 532 students were Hispanic.One of the
school's most notable efforts is its 227-student dual-language program,
where a mix of native Spanish- and English-speaking children learn in both
languages.The program, which just added a fifth-grade component, has equal
amounts of teaching done in Spanish and English. "They're learning in the
language, not just learning the language," said Shawn Williams, a
kindergarten-level dual-language teacher.

The school's focus on literacy and bilingualism has another driving force.
In past years the school has not met certain requirements mandated by No
Child Left Behind. "We're held extremely accountable," Bivins said. Bivins
said that part of the reason for the school's problems is that the tests do
not take into account a child's native language. In fact, they set
benchmarks for minority groups, and if they are not met, the school can be
considered "failing."

Eighty-nine percent of Carrboro Elementary students were considered
proficient by the English language comprehension test, but only 62 percent
of Hispanic students at the school achieved proficiency. "I think you have
to have accountability for children's progress, but you have to look at the
demographics of the school," Williams said.

"When you know that language acquisition takes five to seven years, I think
that must be taken into account," Williams added. But dual-language programs
might help improve literacy scores.
"Research indicates that kids that learn in two languages have higher
academic skills than their peers," said Miriam Casimir, a veteran teacher of
the Carrboro dual-language program. Dual-language students may lag behind
other classes at first, but by the third year they tend to equal and surpass
their peers, even on end-of-year tests, Casimir said.

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar," which delighted students and parents alike,
might just be the crest of the wave. "They learn to appreciate another
culture and language," Williams said. "What a powerful thing in our society,
to be multilingual."
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