The dual-language program at Edwards Elementary School began in 2001, by a group of parents who noticed the growing number of Hispanic students attending the school and the growing number of families who knew little or no English. It was a grassroots effort. And a successful one at that.
The program, with participants selected through a lottery, has 50-percent native English speakers and 50-percent native Spanish speakers, begins in kindergarten, with students reading and writing in their native language. Over the next two years, math, science and social studies are bi-lingual. And by third grade the curriculum is taught half the time in Spanish, the other half in English.
“Our goal is that our students will be bi-lingual, bi-literate and multi-cultural when they leave us in fifth grade,” says Heidi Hansen, principal of the school. The program, now in its tenth year, continues at Berry Creek Middle School so that the students receive content in both languages.
Research shows that there are three major advantages to the program: students develop full oral, reading and writing proficiency in two languages; students read and write at grade level in another language; and students in dual-language programs develop very positive attitudes about students of other language and cultural backgrounds.
“By the time our students reach high school, they are a step ahead,” says Hansen proudly. “Not only does our program allow students to acquire a second language and become multi-cultural, research shows that when students are learning in two languages, it really helps with their flexible thinking skills and opens up other parts of their brain. There are many cognitive benefits to learning a second language early. In fact, many of our students can ‘pass out’ in the language courses, which frees them up to take other electives.”