Students learn in English and Spanish
Vail CO, Colorado
CARBONDALE ” On any given day, the students in Jen Hamilton’s first-grade class at Crystal River Elementary may be learning in English or Spanish. It’s a good thing that Hamilton is fluent in both.
It’s an aspect of teaching that’s growing in the valley with dual language programs at two schools in the Roaring Fork School District already. Throughout the Roaring Fork School District, the number of Hispanic students is nearly half of the population at 2,416 to 2,587 Anglo students.
Crystal River in Carbondale has a Hispanic majority student population; 336 to 108 Anglo students. It’s that demographic change that drives the dual language program, but the positive educational aspect reaches far beyond the classroom.
“Dual language programs are a way for us to get the native Spanish-speaking students English proficient in all academic subjects,” said Crystal River Elementary principal Karen Olson.
Olson knows a thing or two about dual language programs. She was the assistant principal at Basalt Elementary School before coming to the new school, where the program has been in effect for eight years. And when she took the position at Crystal River Elementary, this program was one of the first she wanted to implement.
“It’s been remarkably smooth. The teachers are hard working and able,” Olson said. “With something like this I’d rather go slow than fast; it takes time and it’s something that we wanted to make sure we were doing it right.”
The key idea, according to Olson, is to have a program that integrates the students and doesn’t separate them further. The way the program focuses on academic achievement, it’s not just a language program for English language learners. The way it’s incorporated into the school is that both native English speakers and native Spanish speakers learn both languages while they are learning their academics as well.
“There is no difference in the way we teach from any other school,” Olson said. “All the subjects, math, science, all the curriculum didn’t change, it’s just taught bilingually.”
There are two classes from kindergarten to second grade that are full-time dual language classes. Hamilton said that the program is designed for the Spanish-speaking students to become proficient in English while they are keeping up with their academics. But it’s an added bonus for the English-speaking students because they are learning a second language early in their development, too.
“The English speakers don’t usually have as much background in Spanish as the Spanish speakers have in English,” Hamilton said. “The difficulty is making sure they understand the content, as well as knowing the language.”
Hamilton said that her class is structured so the students learn in their native language during about half of the school day. That means that students also learn in the foreign language for the other half of the day. Each student also receives 45 minutes of instruction in the foreign language, specifically on language, as well.
It may be a little early yet to determine the success of the program at this point, but Hamilton can already see some positive gains.
“At the beginning of the year a lot of students didn’t understand when I was teaching in the other language,” Hamilton said. “But now I can watch them and see that they are really aware of everything and what the other students are doing when given instruction. They pick up on that.”