Good morning, class.
¡Buenos días, clase!
More East Valley students may be hearing these words next school year thanks to the expansion of dual-language programs in school districts.
Dual-language programs are peppered across the Valley. In these classrooms, native English and Spanish speakers learn all their subject material — math, social sciences, science and more — in one language part of the day or week and in another language the other part.
Most common are Spanish/English dual-language programs, allowing children to receive second-language instruction when their brains are most likely to retain the information, experts say.
“At a young age, children are more willing to take on a risk than an older child learning a second language. Research supports us teaching it at a young age, rather than waiting for a child to go into junior high or high school,” said Ana Gomez del Castillo, principal at Kyrene de los Ninos in Tempe, which will launch the Kyrene Dual Language Academy next school year for preschool-age children and kindergartners.
The district, which has schools in Tempe, Chandler and Phoenix, decided to open the dual-language academy as an option for parents in the ever-competitive arena of Arizona schools, Gomez del Castillo said.
“Schools are changing now. They’re not the traditional schools of the past,” she said. “We believe there is a lot of interest in the community for various programs. Kyrene School District is attempting to reach the interests in the community for a dual-language program.”
Gilbert Elementary School will expand its dual-language program next school year to open additional classrooms for kindergarten and first grade, said principal Shelia Rogers. The school has had the program for more than a decade, but hasn’t done anything to advertise it in the past.
“We don’t do anything at all and get a lot of kids from word of mouth,” Rogers said. “I get calls from all over the United States about openings from people relocating.”
Currently, the school offers one class each of multi-grade classrooms for kindergarten/first grade, second/third grade and fourth/fifth grade. The school hopes to open separate kindergarten and first-grade classes next school year and eventually expand the program all the way to sixth grade.
Like Kyrene’s program, it is open to anyone through the state’s open enrollment laws.
Because of the way the classes are taught, it’s best for children to enroll at the younger grades. Rogers said parents of children in second grade should inquire if they are interested in joining to see if there are openings.
“Brain research shows kids are like sponges anyway. They absorb that language. Even in the first three weeks of school, if you go in and their teacher is speaking Spanish, the kids understand. It’s amazing,” Rogers said.
The Gilbert program teaches children to read in their native language and then introduces reading in the second language about second grade. The Kyrene program will teach reading in both languages from the kindergarten.
Rogers, who as been at Gilbert Elementary for 20 years, said many of the students leaving the dual-language program have gone on to use both languages, “even getting a job in high school, if you can speak both languages, you can make more money.”
The valedictorian at Chandler’s Hamilton High School this year, Kaitlin Keller, was a product of Gilbert Elementary’s dual-language program and talks about her experience on a video on Gilbert Elementary’s website.
Mesa’s Keller Elementary School also offers a popular dual-language program for kindergarten through fifth grade.