Why Dual- Language Education?

Growing up as a migrant student was not easy. At the age of four, my father took a bold step to migrate to the United States to find better work and financial stability to support our family. My mother and I did not make that first trip with my father; instead the decision was made for my mother and me to continue living in our home country of Mexico.

I vaguely remember what it was like for my mother and me to live without my father, but I do vividly remember my father’s yearly five-month visits. These visits consisted of extravagant stories of what life in the U.S. was like; these stories were the reason
for our first trip to the U.S. as an immigrant family two years later.

After completing my kindergarten experience in “El Jardin de Niños” in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, I was to enter first grade in a foreign country with absolutely no English language skills. Not only was I balancing getting adjusted to a new culture, new country and new friends, I was also expected to read, write, speak, and listen in English. My teacher, Mrs. Alonso, did not speak one word of Spanish, but did well in making me feel comfortable in her class. During my first-grade year I did not learn any math, nor did I learn how to read in English. What I did learn, was to communicate with my peers and, most importantly, with Mrs. Alonso.

As I reflect on my first few years in the U.S., I now wonder what my educational experience would have been if I had been fortunate enough to have been part of a dual-language classroom. In a dual-language classroom, I would have not spent my first-grade year simply learning how to say, “Can I go to the restroom,” or being able to pronounce my friends’ names. Instead, I would have had the opportunity to continue learning reading, science, and social studies in my native language while still acquiring English.

Dual-language education is an educational program where students learn in two languages, become bilingual and biliterate, and builds cross-cultural competence. Las Cruces Public Schools’ recognizes the many benefits this educational program brings and has embraced its implementation in more than twenty of our schools. This program not only benefits students whose first language is one other than English, but it is also open to students who are acquiring Spanish as a second language. Aside from its linguistic benefits to students, an advantage of dual-language education is that students achieve at levels that are similar to or higher than those of their peers not enrolled in a dual-language program.

According to research conducted by Thomas & Collier in 2002, there are fewer high school drop-outs from dual-language programs than from other programs. Professors Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier are internationally known for their research on long-term effectiveness for students in dual language programs. Their research has provided educators with long term data that promotes positive outcomes for student in dual language education. Lindholm-Leary (2003) also found that most dual-language program students expect to attend college. There is an immense amount of research to support the implementation of dual-language programs, but there are also many misconceptions related to dual-language education.

Misconception #1

Students will not learn English because they are being taught in their native language at school.

Clarification

Students will not only gain English but will also be exposed to grade-level instruction in their native language as well as in English. This provides the best learning environment for students to be at grade level in all academic areas while at the same time acquiring the English language.

Misconception #2

Only students who are learning English will benefit from being in a dual-language program.

Clarification

Research shows that native English speakers typically achieve at higher levels in English than do English language learners (Howard, Sugarman & Christian, 2003). By middle school, if students have been in a dual-language setting since elementary, they surpass students in non-dual classrooms on standardized tests.

Misconception #3

Students who are immersed into an all-English classroom will learn English faster than in a dual-language setting.

Clarification

Dr. Collier and Thomas’ research has brought to light the amazing results of dual-language education and the positive impact it has on students who are learning English as a second language. Studies have proven that students attain English in a dual-language classroom while achieving higher academic proficiency in all content areas compared to students who are placed in an English-only environment. Although students do attain English in non-dual-language classrooms, they fall behind in all other academic areas.

During the 2012-13 school year, LCPS has partnered with two very prominent dual-language education researchers, Dr. Leo Gómez and Dr. Richard Gómez, to aid in enhancing the implementation of their dual-language programs in our schools. Drs. Gómez and Gómez have been partnering with school districts since 1996 and bring a great wealth of knowledge to schools who are implementing dual-language education (more information at http://dlti.us/3.html). LCPS will closely monitor the success of its dual-language programs to assure that students are making the necessary academic gains attaining language proficiency.

We have already seen benefits from implementation of the Gómez and Gómez dual-language model in our schools. Ashley Matkin Weir is a parent of an English-only student enrolled at Highland Elementary and said that her daughter, Sidney, has always been very social and has always wanted to communicate with everyone, especially other children. “Living in this area, we had many occasions (at parks, stores, etc.), where Sidney wasn’t able to talk to other children. This really affected her and she would always try really hard to communicate in other ways. We feel that Sydney has the desire and ability to be successful in a program that will push her to limits that she has previously never experienced,” explained Ashley.

My own personal experience, as a migrant student who began school in the U.S., without understanding a single word of English, has made me keenly aware of the challenges that nearly fourteen percent of LCPS students who are English language learners face. Many of these students, more than 3,600, also begin school knowing no English. It is our mandate to offer these students the same world-class education we provide all students. And, with the Gómez and Gómez dual-language model that has already proven successful in nearly 600 school districts in five other states, we have an outstanding language and academic program that will benefit all students.


Fall 2012
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