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‘They don’t see white and Mexican’

Scott N. Miller
Chad Owsley/ Vail DailyThe kindergarten class at Edwards Elementary is the first entirely "dual language" class in Eagle Valley School district.
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EDWARDS – When Vicky Reyes looks at her youngest child, she sees opportunity. So does Dana Maurer.Those kids, now in kindergarten, are part of the first wave of students at Edwards Elementary School to be a class that is all part of the school’s “dual-language” program.The program, now in its fifth year, teaches kids in both Spanish and English. Students spend about half the year learning exclusively in each language. The goal is to turn out kids who are able to not just speak, but write and learn, in another language.The program was begun by a group of English-speaking parents who wanted their kids to learn Spanish. Last year, more than half of the school’s 400-plus students participated in the program.By the time Reyes and Maurer’s kids are in fifth grade, every student at Edwards will be in the dual-language program. The district will provide transportation to Avon Elementary School for kids whose parents don’t want to participate in the program.Turning Edwards into a full dual-language school has been a pleasant surprise for Emily Larsen and Bev Rasmussen, both of whom have been involved in the program from the start.”It was a dream,” said Rasmussen, grant coordinator for the program who also has a child at the school. “But we were so focused at the beginning to get the program up and running, I don’t think we thought it would happen.”And, at the beginning, no one was sure if there would be enough English-speaking parents interested enough in the program to keep it going. The English-speaking parents were the key to making the program work in both languages.So far, the English-speaking families seem to be sending plenty of kids to Edwards.”We looked at private schools and the charter school,” Maurer said. “We were very, very impressed with the dual-language program.”Language acquisition is an important part of education,” she added. “It’s an incredible skill to have.”

Opening doorsFor Reyes, her daughter’s participation in the dual-language program is a way to both learn the language of the family’s adopted country and keep her ties to her culture.”It helps open up the world to her,” Reyes said. It also keeps the doors open to her past.”My other kids are losing a lot of their Spanish,” Reyes said. “My oldest son keeps putting in English words while he’s speaking Spanish.”That makes talking to his grandparents increasingly difficult, she said.”And I think if he’s losing his language, maybe he’s losing his culture,” she added.He might also be losing one option for college as he spends more time speaking English at school and with his friends. Spanish-speaking families with relatives still in Mexico can send their kids to college in that country, which is much less expensive. But unless kids are fully literate in Spanish, they can’t get into those schools.That’s part of the opportunity Reyes sees. And it’s why the next dream is to take the dual-language program through middle school and into high school. There’s a dual-language sixth grade class this year at Berry Creek Middle School, and at least preliminary plans to expand the program into seventh and eighth grade.

The problem, though, is finding teachers who are both truly bi-lingual and also qualified to teach specific subjects.More languages, more choicesThe payoff, though, could be huge.”If we take this into high school, we could have enough kids in high school to expand the advanced placement classes,” Rasmussen said. “We could offer high-school content in Spanish.Having high-school level classes taught in Spanish could also open up more than better courses to immigrant students new to Battle Mountain High School, she added.For now, though, most of the action is at Edwards Elementary. And Reyes, who works at the school, likes what she sees.”It’s amazing,” she said. “I was in the second grade Spanish class the other day, and saw the Anglo kids cooperating with the Spanish kids. One of them had written ‘mama’ on the board and put the accent where it’s supposed to go! I feel really proud to see these kids learning my language.”And, Reyes said, the English- and Spanish-speaking kids get along well, too.”They share their cultures,” she said. “They don’t see white and Mexican.”



Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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