Texas: Kindergartners learning both Spanish and English
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Thu Sep 13 13:47:55 UTC 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Kindergartners learning both Spanish and English
By Carolyn G. Schatz, Staff Writer
September 12, 2007
The earlier you start, the easier it is to learn a second language.
And you don't have to be afraid of monsters. The kindergartners in
Brenda De La Vega's class eagerly took in that lesson one morning last
week as they listened to their teacher read "Luna, Lunita Lunera," the
story of a little girl who's afraid to go to school until she realizes
that no monsters live there. De La Vega read the story in Spanish as
murmurs of "Monster! Monster!" and "Monstruo! Monstruo!" rippled among
her rapt listeners. As De La Vega asked her class in English what they
liked best, little hands shot up.
"I liked when she was crying," said one. "I liked when she was going
to school," said another - both in English. Par for the course, De La
Vega had read the same story in English - "Moony Luna" - to her class
last week. And so, the kindergartners at Ruth Grimes Elementary School
in Bloomington are getting a head start by learning two languages at
once - English and Spanish. Thirty-nine percent of the school's
students are native English speakers.
Most of them are Spanish speakers, though students at the school also
speak Indonesian, Arabic, Filipino, Vietnamese and Punjabi. It is the
first year that a school in the Colton Joint Unified School District
is offering a dual-immersion program. But it is not as difficult as it
sounds. The kids in De La Vega's class made it look easy, as they sat
huddled at their tables, drawing colorful fish and learning their
numbers and letters - core principles that are the same in both
languages. "Uno, dos - and how many is that?" asked Adela Guillen Coke
as she stood over a student's shoulder, interspersing the two
languages in a perfect blend. Guillen Coke is a teacher on assignment
who coordinates the program.
The mix of Spanish and English flowed effortlessly throughout the
day's lesson plan, with the students unhesitatingly responsive - no
matter which language they spoke. Both Spanish and English were
The goal of the program, said Bertha Arreguin, director of language
support services for the district, is for students to become
completely bilingual and biliterate.
The way to achieve that is to start them in both languages in
kindergarten and build from there.
Ruth Grimes is using a 90-10 program, in which two of the five
kindergarten classes are being taught in 90 percent Spanish and 10
Next year, the program at Ruth Grimes will be expanded to the first
grade, and students will be learning 80 percent Spanish and 20 percent
Each year, a new grade level will be added at Ruth Grimes - with 10
percent more English and 10 percent less Spanish taught - so that by
the fourth or fifth grades, students will be learning equally in
English and Spanish.
"By sixth grade, we want them to be ready to continue on through
middle school and high school," Arreguin said.
Parents must make at least a six-year commitment to the program, she
said, to make it work.
Pulling them out is a no-no. Parents are required to sign a waiver,
promising to keep their child in the dual-immersion program through
the fifth grade.
The parental role is key, and language classes will be offered to
parents, beginning in October, Arreguin said.
"The need to know two languages is increasing," she said.
"All you have to do is look throughout the world. In almost every
country besides the USA, children study or know more than one
"It's unheard of in Europe not to know three languages," said Guillen Coke.
The 4- and 5-year-olds at Ruth Grimes are actually doing double the learning.
All of the curriculum in the dual-immersion classes is aligned with
But while it may seem that those who speak solely English when they
enter class may seem to be at a disadvantage by being taught primarily
in Spanish - all students in the kindergarten class learn to read in
Spanish - research shows otherwise.
Both English- and Spanish-speaking children benefit, administrators say.
The principles for learning to read are the same in both languages,
Guillen Coke said.
Research shows that learning another language aids critical thinking,
and even improves test scores, Arreguin said.
"Research shows that students in bilingual programs can develop
academic skills on a par with or superior to the skills of comparison
groups of their peers educated in English-only classrooms," she said.
Moreover, there is no danger in immersing English speakers in another
language, because they are not at risk of losing English, Arreguin
"Two-way immersion programs are not replacing English with another
language," she said, "but providing students the opportunity to
acquire a second language at an early age."
The second language is acquired while retaining the first language.
And the best time to learn another language is when children start to
speak, up until about age 10, Arreguin said.
It's not just the parents of English learners who want to enroll their
children in dual-immersion classes.
The greatest demand comes from high-income professionals who
appreciate the advantages of knowing another language in a global
economy, Arreguin said.
Amy Norris said she wanted her son, Alexander, 4, to participate in
the Ruth Grimes program "because it's good for him to learn a second
language. ... Students who take a second language tend to do better
throughout their academic career."
The small class size and more individualized instruction are also
attractive, she said.
Norris, a full-time nursing student at San Bernardino Valley College,
said she only regrets that her 8-year-old is "too old" for the
program. But depending on how Alexander performs, she'll be gladly
enrolling her 1-year-old when the time comes.
There are no monsters, after all, in Ruth Grimes' kindergarten class.
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