Kindergarten: Opening up dual possibilities

Hola Buenos dias. Bienvenido a la escuela Central.
Imagine going to kindergarten for your first day of school and not understanding a word the teacher is saying to you. In the past that may have been normal for a non-English speaker, this fall that is normal for all kindergarten students at Central School.
On Aug. 23, 50 students at Central Elementary School not only began their first day of school but also the first day of the dual language program.
Principal Justin Adolph and school staff have been working the past three years to implement this program for the elementary school. His goal is not only to have the Central Cougars graduate for the school as bilingual speakers but also to have the program continue through their high school education.
Studies show that the younger a child is exposed to a second language the easier it is for the child to pick up the second language.
For half of the day a group of students are taught only in English and for the other half only in Spanish. Each class of students is split between Spanish speakers and English speakers.
Parents prepared their students for the first day of school and explained the language divide, however no one knew how the students would react or how to prepare them for the cultural shock.

“We make it fun, they are having fun and I am too but it is a lot of work and planning. We are also learning.”

Susana Guzman

As this was the inaugural class for the dual language program Central teachers and staff did not know what to expect for the students either and are learning as the year begins.
“A lot of the students were excited but didn’t realize how much they wouldn’t understand. However, I expected more frustration,” explained Adolph. “Overall the awesome part to see is the kids helping each other.”
In each class a Spanish speaking and an English speaking student has been paired together for buddy system. While they help each other and work together they are not allowed to translate for each other. The goal is to immerse the students in the language so they learn. If their friend is always translating the instructions, the student will not be as apt to learn the second language.
While school has only been in session for two weeks, the students are already picking up basic instructions.
“They know ‘write your name’ and ‘put the paper over there’ as they have been able to pick up on what we repeat and are able to show them,” teacher Susana Guzman explained.
Guzman, a Spanish teacher, purposely asks an English speaker to do an assigned task so the students pay attention and learn the commands.
In one instance a student who is already bi-lingual wanted to translate a Spanish command to English but teachers would not allow the friendly assistance.  
For Guzman, who is biliterate, one challenge of the inaugural year is sticking with Spanish and responding to an English question in Spanish. Another challenge is the teachers are learning with the students.
“We make it fun, they are having fun and I am too but it is a lot of work and planning. We are also learning,” said Guzman. “What we notice the kids pick up on we go back and reteach. We use a lot of posters.”
This is the first year the students have taught using GLAD strategies for easier understanding for students. GLAD strategies, guided language acquisition, purpose is to activate, focus and build background knowledge while sparking interest and building excitement.
Using GLAD strategies the kindergarten students are taught with a lot of posters and visuals that help them to identify and understand the word they are taught.
Math and literature is instructed in English and science while social studies and literature is instructed in Spanish.
Kelsey Milos and her husband were unsure if they wanted to sign their son, Korbin, up for the program or if he would be better in an English only classroom. After asking many questions and meeting with Adolph they decided this was the best option for Korbin’s future.
While they struggled with the decision to sign him up for the dual language program she has no doubts now that is where he belongs.
“The hardest part is coming to the realization he will know a language I don’t. It is going really good. He really really likes it and brags that he is learning Spanish,” explained Milos. “Everyday he comes home and is excited to know Spanish.”
Two weeks into the school year she plans to send his younger siblings through the dual language program when they start kindergarten as well.
While the start of the school year can be a challenge for all students and especially those who are immersed in a language they don’t know, Adolph knows it will get better.
“Kindergarten is going to be the hardest part and they will have a solid foundation of two languages,” stated Adolph. “In the beginning learning the second language they will struggle and be confused it takes a long time to build a solid foundation of the second language.
Teachers are currently working on letters, vowels and sounds as well as counting. While some of those skills are known going into kindergarten the students are taught literacy in both languages and need to learn the skills for their second language.
Milos explained that Korbin walks around thinking he is speaking Spanish while it sounds more like gibberish but has already mastered counting to 10 in Spanish.
While he is enjoying the program now, Milos knows the opportunity to learn two languages will open doors for college and job opportunities in his future. Research shows that students who are fully bi-literate achieve at a higher level academically.
In past years the Spanish speaking and English-speaking students at Central School were divided into two classrooms. While the elementary students had little interaction in the classroom they were not drawn to play with each other outside of the classroom.
Adolph explained you would see a group of Spanish speaking students playing soccer at recess and right next to them was a group of English speaking students playing their own game of soccer. While school staff encouraged them to interact and play one soccer game, the students did not naturally join together.
This year the staff has seen the kindergarten students come together and all interact. While in the classroom each language speaker has been paired together as a partner, they also have formed friendships outside of the classroom.
One day after school Guzman witnessed an English speaking student, an African American student and three Hispanic students hugging each other goodbye. A scene that was not typical in years prior.
On Friday, Sept. 15 the Central School PTO will host their first fundraiser of the year. In celebration of Hispanic heritage month and the dual language program, the parent organization will host a traditional Mexican snack sale. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. a variety of Mexican delicacies will be available at Central Elementary School.
Snacks available include: Mexican style corn: $1- $2, drinks: $1, fruit cups: $2, and Chicharrones: $1- $2.
On Tuesday, Jan. 23 the school will host a parent presentation from Dr. Kim Potowski. She will present on the benefits of dual language.
Central School staff are currently accepting application for the dual language kindergarten for next fall. Applications can be turned in at the school office now through March.

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