Dual language at Edwards Elementary
EDWARDS – It’s 7:40 a.m. and fifth-grade teacher Julie Lundgren enjoys a few minutes of peace and quiet readying her classroom for the busy day ahead. On the other side of the classroom door, her students are piling up, chatting noisily, waiting to be let in. As eager as they are to get in, they’ll count down the minutes to recess, especially on this sunny day that promises to warm up nicely.Ten minutes later, Lundgren, still in her coat and scarf, opens the door to her modular classroom to greet her class. Children pour into the room like a tide with a mission.”Hola maestra, buenos días Ms. Lundgren, good morning Ms. Lundgren,” they holler, one after another.They buzz around the room, hanging up coats, putting books away, storing backpacks, taking things out of their cubbies, making last-minute trips to the bathroom and water fountain. Some socialize while others take a seat until Lundgren tells them all to settle down. Fifteen minutes have passed, and Lundgren has talked to most of her students, but she hasn’t uttered a single word in English.
As a member of the dual-language program at Edwards Elementary School, Lundgren spends her days teaching in Spanish while Gen Sansone next door teaches her fifth-grade class in English.
Every four or five weeks, they trade kids. The students end up getting half their education in Spanish and the other half in English, but the teachers always teach in one language. “OK, vamos a ver,” Lundgren says to her now mostly seated class, starting the day off with an exercise in analogies to get the juices flowing. “Numero uno, los Estados Unidos es a America del Norte como Francia es a …?” The United States is to North America as France is to …?Lundgren surveys the room.”Europa?” one student ventures.”Correcto,” Lundgren replies, and the group moves on to the next problem. They’re only at it for a few minutes before it’s time for the kids to go their separate ways. Those with Spanish as their first language go to English class while native English speakers file into Lundgren’s room for Spanish class.
Still a new concept in Eagle County, dual-language programs have rapidly gained popularity, making Edwards Elementary a school of choice – so sought after that the school now hosts a lottery to see which kids will make it into the program.
Dual-language schools are becoming such a commodity that Avon Elementary School is also considering going in the dual-language direction. Most teachers and staff at Edwards believe in the power of dual-language education, not only to create bilingual children but to broaden cultural understanding. But the program also has its skeptics.”It’s always been a question of mine – are we teaching them acceptance or are we teaching them to hate each other by pushing them together?” said Garrick Swanson, the school’s permanent substitute teacher. Lundgren is convinced the benefits are abundant and obvious.”Knowing another language is really important,” she said. “It does all this stuff for your brain, and it widens your perspective on life in general. I think it’s better for everybody to have a wider perspective, just be more global.”National studies have shown the best way for native Spanish speakers to learn English is through a dual-language program, and while there isn’t a lot of data about how it affects the English-speaking kids, Edwards students are testing as well or better than other English-speaking students in the district, said Emily Larsen, who, as the school’s grant coordinator, helped organize the dual-language program. “But it’s more than just language,” Larsen said. “We definitely encourage cultural understanding.”
There’s no hate on the playground as the fifth-grades expel energy before lunch, but it’s not a colorblind paradise either.A group of Spanish- and English-speaking kids play freeze-tag. The game is an Edwards Elementary favorite, but not everyone is into the athletic pastime. “We walk and talk, but all they do is play tag, and I don’t like running,” said Sendy Gonzalez, 10.Ten-year-old Victor Portillo said he and his Mexican buddies like to play soccer, but the white kids seldom join in on the game. “The (white people), they ignore us,” said Norma Camoñez, 11. But Valeria Espino, 11, said she’s become friends with native-English speakers, even bunking with a couple of white girls on last year’s field trip. And 10-year-old Elise Rasmussen said the diverse school offers her a chance to get to know people of other races – people she might not talk to otherwise.
Just after 1 p.m., the fifth-graders are chowing down on lunch. They’re required to sit with their homeroom classes, but like in any other school, the boys sit with the boys and the girls sit with the girls. But at Edwards Elementary, they also split themselves up by race, though there are always carryovers.”Our group, I think they mix a little bit more,” Lundgren said. “But I notice in the lunchroom, a lot of times, they’re still separated.”Larsen said self segregation is to be expected.”It’s a normal and natural thing,” she said. “When kids are littler, they’re more accepting, and they don’t see differences as much as when they get older. Especially in lower grade levels, kids gravitate toward those who speak the same language as they do.”This battles carries over into the classroom where teachers try to keep their students speaking the same language – be it English or Spanish that week. “We encourage kiddos to use their second language in the classroom with varying level of success,” Larsen said. “It’s very difficult for the child to stay in the language, especially if the peer speaks the same language.”
With energy spent and bellies full, Lundgren’s kids headed back to their classroom for math, where they took on three-dimensional shapes – in Spanish. And while there were momentary lapses into English, by both native English- and Spanish-speakers, they put it all together to figure out just how many bases a four-sided pyramid has.And at the end of the day, that interdependency is what Edwards is trying to create – the knowledge that both languages have something to offer each other. “We want them to rely on each other,” Larsen said. “The biggest goal is creating a culture of respect and having the kids understand that kids are equally valuable no matter what their first language is.”
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado