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PUSD' Dual Language Academy remains strong, successful, popular
Cohort moves into the middle school years
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at the dual immersion programs in local schools. Monday’s story will look at Burton District’s program.
After eight years, Porterville Unified School District’s Dual Language Academy — a dual-immersion program that started at Santa Fe Elementary and is seeing its first cohort at Pioneer Middle School — remains strong, popular and successful.
“I am very impressed and proud of the outstanding achievements our teachers and students have obtained with the dual-immersion program,” said PUSD Superintendent John Snavely. “To see students obtain educational skills that will give them an incredible advantage in life is very rewarding to us as educators. This thought is validated because of its popularity with parents. Parents spending the night in the cold to ensure their kindergarten child gets enrolled in this program says it all. I am grateful we have such dedicated teachers that are willing to take on this challenging task. It is not easy but the rewards for students make the extra effort worthwhile.”
The idea for the program was first visited approximately 10 years ago when Angel Valdez, then principal at Vandalia Elementary, started spearheading the unique program, helping with the implementation of the vision for Santa Fe Elementary, the district’s newest — and at the time yet-to-be-built — school.
Valdez started by researching the programs and finding materials and teachers, said PUSD Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Val Staley.
“He coordinated it all, pulling all the pieces together and staying with it, and then made a proposal to the district,” Staley said.
After visiting numerous schools, districts and conferences, PUSD made the decision to implement the Dual Language Academy at Santa Fe in 2005.
“As a team, we all thought it was a great program to offer our students in Porterville. The dual program offers parents a choice for their students to learn two languages. Students in the program are able to speak, read and write in both languages,” Valdez said. “Socially, they have learned and enjoyed interacting with other cultures. Students at Santa Fe develop very positive attitudes about students of other languages and cultural backgrounds — and positive attitudes toward themselves as learners.”
The program has been successful — evidenced by the school’s high Adequate Yearly Progress report and high Academic Performance Index score — a measure of academic performance.
“It promotes bilingualism, bi-literacy, academic achievement and multicultural competencies necessary to compete in the new global job market in the future,” he said.
Now in its eighth year, the Dual Language Academy has moved into the middle school grades.
Starting with 80 kindergartners, four classes of 20 each, during the 2005-06 school year, the program offered kindergartners a 50/50 class setting — receiving their instruction half of the time in Spanish and half of the time in English. In addition, the class consisted of 50 percent English-dominant students and 50 percent Spanish-dominant.
“The intent and beauty of the program is students become bi-literate, not just bilingual,” Staley said. “They have the ability to read, write and speak in two languages — not just in a tourist language but in an academic language.”
The new language also broadens opportunities to those who are not native speakers.
“There are enormous benefits in global awareness and careers,” she said. “It’s also a real boom in terms of career and in a position in students’ understanding other cultures.
Today, the PUSD program boasts close to 700 students and 24 instructors, in kindergarten through seventh grade. Of the 691 students in the program, 77 have made the transition to seventh grade.
“Most of them — 68 of the 77 — started the program in kindergarten. We also have a few who started in seventh grade,” said Pioneer Middle School Principal Isaac Nunez. “I’m happy to say that all students not previously in the dual-immersion program, are flourishing.”
But what has really amazed him, Nunez said, is the oral language, reading and writing development.
“There’s great growth,” he said. “To be here every day and communicating with these kids and seeing what’s happening — their learning program is flourishing and they are scoring at proficient levels.”
The school day for those in the program is done half in Spanish and half in English during a Language Arts block. There are also science and social studies classes in both languages.
“There is no replication,” Nunez said. “We don’t teach the same lesson in English and then in Spanish. They are different lessons.”
In addition, all students are assigned an iPad, loaded with books and curriculum.
“We expect a lot of complex thinking and use proactive tools and applications,” Nunez said. “Students can access their work from anywhere.”
A Facetime application allows students who are ill or excused from class the opportunity to log in from home, preventing missed lessons, assignments and participation.
“We’ve worked with app developers to meet our needs. Our teachers place work in a ‘cloud.’ Kids access it and return the answers and other work to the cloud,” Nunez said about the iPad’s password-protected center where information can be stored and accessed. “The kids are constantly working at a very-high level.”
They are also taking the work further, creating blogs, video programs and keynote presentations from school and home.
Dual-immersion instructors Yesenia Romero and Danny Velazquez agree, saying they have seen a lot of growth in the students’ Spanish.
The students in the class are proof of it.
Aime Alarcon joined the program as she started seventh grade to learn a second language for better job opportunities in the future, she said.
“Spanish was my first language and my mom didn’t want me to lose it,” she said. “I’m learning so many new things in Spanish.”
Seventh-grader Bailey Gammon has been in the program since she was in first grade.
“By the time I was in third grade, I was bilingual and could understand Spanish well,” she said. “It’s helped so much. It can be challenging, but challenges are really good for you and it does become easier.”
Gammon was able to test first-hand what she has learned. She spent part of her summer on a Port Naz Church mission trip to Belize, where she was able to communicate easily with everyone in Spanish, she said.
“I’m amazed every day at what our kids are capable of doing and the skills they are teaching one another,” Nunez said. “Learning never stops.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.
PUSD Dual Immersion by the numbers:
° 2005-06 — year the dual immersion class began.
° 80 — number of kindergarten students (four classes of 20) enrolled in the program’s onset.
° 4 — number of dual immersion teachers at the program’s onset.
° 8 — number of years the program has been in place.
° 691 — number of students in the program (K-7) today.
° 68 — number of students in eighth year who began while in Kindergarten.
° 77 — number of students in the seventh grade program.
° 24 — number of K-7 teachers teaching dual immersion at PUSD.