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Two languages better than one

David L'Heureux
David L'Heureux/Enterprise Dr. Manuel Escamilla reads a thank you card presented to him by Gypsum Elementary School students.
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GYPSUM – The writing has been on the wall for a long time regarding bi-lingual education in the United States. Increasingly in Eagle County, that writing is in both English and Spanish.Recent statistics show a high percentage – 80 percent in some area elementary schools – of students in Eagle County schools are of Latino descent. Many of those students speak two languages at a very young age. It’s a marketable talent, and something Latinos should be proud of, Dr. Manuel Escamilla says. “The students need to have a meaningful understanding of their heritage and history,” Escamilla, a Head Start Administrator in Denver, said during a recent visit to Gypsum schools. “They need to continue their experience of who they are.”Escamilla also teaches early childhood education and second language acquisition at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He visited with students at Gypsum Elementary School and Eagle Valley High School recently as part of the school district’s English Language Acquisition program speaker series. “I think it’s important for students to see individuals who can give them ideas on how to pursue their dreams,” said Escamilla, who moved to the United States from Mexico when he was 11. “All of those students have the potential of becoming professionals. They can become teachers, journalists, engineers or doctors.”That requires hard work, perseverance and respect for others, especially for the teachers, who guide the kids along the way. The role of the teacher is crucial, even if they themselves are not bi-lingual, Escamilla said. “If a teacher is monolingual, they can still be effective by understanding what the student is going through to learn another language,” Escamilla said. “We need to help kids to advance in every facet of their education.”Gypsum Elementary teacher Kim Chambers sees the importance of multi-cultural education every day with her students, she said. Her efforts to broaden the interests and enthusiasm of bilingual students was the impetus for bringing Escamilla to speak in Gypsum, she said.

“We want our Spanish-speaking students to know that they too can become successful in academics, and be a part of the mainstream American culture,” Chambers said.Better communicatorsSwitching back-and-forth between English and Spanish, he developed an immediate rapport with the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.”If you know Spanish and English, you can communicate with 80 percent of the world,” Escamilla said. He then added the joke: “White is right, and black is beautiful, but brown is all around.” The phrase elicited more laughs from the elementary students. He did the same with old students are Eagle Valley High School – a decidedly tougher crowd.”I always try to single out the teenagers who sit in the back and act tough,” Escamilla said. “I confront them. I let them know that I see their defense mechanism, and it doesn’t work.”Chambers sees Escamilla’s use of humor as an effective way to get his point across. Ultimately, it’s his success that provides the best example, she said. “He overcame so many obstacles to become a leader in higher education,” Chambers said. “He wasn’t the best in his class, but he had perseverance. It’s important for the kids to see that.”Fifth graders Andrea Campos, Omar Venzor and Jose Serna – all of whom are bilingual – said they were impressed with Dr. Escamilla.

“We learned it’s important to follow your dreams,” Campos said. “He told us to be proud of being Mexican,” Venzor added, “and that we can be professors if we study a lot.””He’s smart,” said Serna. “I want to travel as much as he did.”Family can waitEscamilla’s final point was the most important in his eyes.”Don’t have kids when you are 16 or 17 – or even 22,” said Escamilla. “Too many Latino women are having kids so young, they never get to experience things like college or even hanging out with friends.”Of every 100 Latinos that go to high school, 17 go to college and only two graduate, Escamilla said. Simultaneously, the trend of teenage childbirth is growing at an alarming rate for Latinos.”I don’t care how good of a person you are, teenagers do not make good parents,” he said.Vail Colorado


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