San Diego: Dual-language classes double the learning

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jul 6 12:18:18 UTC 2007

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*More Education news*<>
*Dual-language classes double the learning

* Elementary school students – and parents – responsive *By Blanca Gonzalez*

July 5, 2007

POWAY – The blond, blue-eyed first-grader wiggled a loose front tooth with
her tongue. "*Tengo un diente flojo*," Kate Riddle said.

JOHN GASTALDO / Union-Tribune
Victoria Robertson (left) and Klarissa Garcia, third-grade students in
dual-language classes at Poway's Valley Elementary School, worked on a
Kate's native language is English, but her pronunciation was as fluent as
that of Kaory Hernandez, one of her native Spanish-speaking classmates at
Valley Elementary in Poway.

The girls speak different languages at home, but at school they are in the
same class, learning to read and write in Spanish as part of the only
dual-language program in the Poway Unified School District.

Kate and Kaory are among more than 200 Valley Elementary students who are
taught entirely in Spanish for 50 percent to 90 percent of their school day.
The program, which has attracted families from throughout the district, aims
to achieve bilingual proficiency in English and Spanish.

Advocates of dual-language programs say they benefit both English-and
Spanish-speakers. Native English speakers more easily learn another language
at a young age and become truly bilingual, advocates say, and Spanish
speakers learn academics in their native language, ensuring that they
understand the material, then transition to English.

Although participants overall test lower in English-language skills in first
and second grades, they ultimately do as well as or better than their peers
in academic achievement by the fifth grade, plus they become bilingual, said
Judy Lambert, education consultant for the California Department of
Education, Language Policy and Leadership Office.

Such two-way programs have increased in California and the nation, from 25
in the state in 1990 to 201 in 2006, according to Lambert. San Diego County
has about a dozen dual-language offerings, including programs in Escondido,
Valley Center and Encinitas.

Valley Elementary School, which let out for the summer recently, has
completed its sixth year offering the program and has now had a group of
children who have gone through it from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Laura Van Tyne's daughter, Georgia, was in the first class of kindergartners
in 2001.

"It's the best thing to ever happen to our children," said Van Tyne.
Although Georgia will move on to middle school in the fall, Van Tyne has two
more daughters enrolled at Valley.

Under its program, kindergarten students are taught in Spanish for 90
percent of their day and in English for 10 percent. The ratio of Spanish to
English shifts each year, with students gradually reaching 50/50
Spanish-English instruction in fifth grade.

"There's no difference between Spanish and English for (Georgia). It's so
natural, she doesn't miss a beat," Van Tyne said.

Van Tyne felt so strongly about having her younger daughters in the program
that the family moved about a mile to make sure they were within the
boundaries of Valley's attendance area, guaranteeing them a spot in the
dual-language classes.

Van Tyne is not alone. Lambert said many parents are willing to move. She
said she often gets calls from people throughout the state wanting to know
where the programs are available. Lambert told of one mom who was willing to
move anywhere to get her daughter into a program.

"I asked her how old her daughter was, and she said, 'Don't laugh . . .
She's three months.' I told her she had plenty of time," Lambert said.

Valley principal Sue Smith said the program's popularity has resulted in
waiting lists the past few years, with many families from throughout Poway
Unified trying to get in. About a third of Valley's 700 students in
kindergarten through fifth-grade are in the program.

The school used to advertise the program, but word-of-mouth has made
recruiting unnecessary. Smith said she had 84 applicants for the 60
kindergarten slots. Families are asked to make a six-year commitment, from
kindergarten through fifth grade.

Elizabeth Kerr of Rancho Bernardo is one of several families in her area
that carpool, to Poway every day during the school year to attend Valley.

"It's totally worth it. It's a great opportunity. They're not intimidated
about learning another language," said Kerr, who has twin sons in the

Julia Sugarman, research associate for the Center for Applied Linguistics,
said young children are ideal candidates for language instruction.

"Little kids are fearless; they'll try things. They'll take a lot of
chances," Sugarman said. "They're more attuned to the sound of a language,
and they can acquire an accent easier" than older students.

Teacher Blanca Araujo's classroom at Valley Elementary looks like a typical
first-grade, with posters displaying the alphabet. The difference is that
while the letter A shows a picture of an airplane (*avión*), the letter C
shows a rabbit (*conejo*), the letter E depicts a star (*estrella*), and a
cat (*gato*) is used for G.

Like other dual-language classrooms, Araujo's class is split, with half
native Spanish-speakers and half native English-speakers, although there are
a few students at Valley whose native language is neither English nor

The students learn from one another, and no one is self-conscious, say
parents and teachers. Some parents say the program is comparable to a
private school offering.

Kerr, who says she speaks only " 'preschool Spanish' – I know my colors,
numbers" – is thrilled with her boys' progress. "They speak Spanish at home
with each other," Kerr said. "They feel sorry for their friends who know
only one language."

Blanca Gonzalez: (760) 737-7576;
*blanca.gonzalez at*<>

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