Bilingual Success

In the fall of 2015, Jackson County School District 9 implemented the Dual Language Immersion Program, providing dozens of White City students with an increased opportunity for a successful future.

In addition to teaching participants the subjects required to move on to the next grade level, the program prepares students to speak, write and read in two languages.

The Principal of Table Rock Elementary School in White City, José de Jesus Meléndez, says Jackson County School District 9 sought out someone with prior experience in this educational model who could successfully implement it locally in English and Spanish. He assures he’s prepared for the challenge thanks to his time as Principal and Director in other school districts which have taken on the program.

The style used in participating classrooms at Jackson County School District 9 is the 90:10 model. Students learn everything in Spanish 90 percent of the time and the rest is in English, without regard to their primary language. Meléndez says when compared to students who go through a conventional form of education, children who take part in this program have greater academic success— regardless of their native language, race or culture.

“That means that a hundred percent— anglo children, native English speakers, or minority children, for us, our Spanish-speaking children in the program— one hundred percent of the children will benefit, do benefit and that’s proven by research across the nation,” Melendez says.

Meléndez shares he’s honored to have come full circle, returning with his doctorate to implement this program in the same place where he arrived as a 17-year-old agricultural worker who had not finished elementary school and did not speak one word of English.

Administrators at Jackson County School District 9 accepted the program in English and Spanish because of its high population of Spanish-speaking children and families. Phoenix-Talent School District 4 has had the Dual Language Immersion Program at its schools for about 20 years. This is the third year Central Point School District 6 offers the program.

For now, only 30 students participate at Academia Aguilitas Preschool in White City. There are two kindergarten classes and one first grade class at Table Rock Elementary School taking part in the program.

Meléndez assures the district plans to continue spreading this model of education as participating students graduate, until it exists from preschool to high school, but he says says it’s difficult to find educators who are qualified to teach in two languages.

The Principal of White Mountain Middle School and Academia Aguilitas Preschool, Karina Rizo, doesn’t doubt the implementation of the Dual Language Immersion Program will serve as an incentive, drawing more teachers to Jackson County School District 9.

One of the teachers already forming part of the program at Academia Aguilitas, KatiJo Matthews, says she’s very excited about the progress her students have made.

“Starting them at such a young age, they’re just like little sponges and they pick up on everything so quickly,” Matthews says.

The teacher says these young ones’ parents share her satisfaction with their progress because they see it firsthand when their children sing and count in Spanish at home, proudly showing off their new skills. A confident Matthews says her students will reap the benefits of being bilingual far past their academic careers.

“It’s going to be so helpful for them when they become adults you know— applying for jobs, going to college— being able to speak a second language is just going to be such a great, I guess, step up in the world for them,” Matthews says.

The school district plans to exhibit this advantage with a seal of biliteracy on each participant’s high school diploma, proving the student can read and write in two languages.

“To be able to graduate and have that biliteracy seal would just be icing on the cake and would give them so many more opportunities after high school,” Rizo says.

Keeping the cohorts together as they move on to the next grade level isn’t the only thing helping this first group of participants obtain that emblem on graduation day; Rizo says to have the best opportunity of success with Dual Language Immersion, half of the students must speak English as their first language and coincidentally, her district has that distribution.

“Not only does that provide the students with support from each other, but it provides the families a support group as well so that they can learn and be a part of this journey together,” Rizo says.

Rizo, Matthews and Meléndez hope the lessons participants learn reach far beyond the playground and homes of these children and spill onto the streets of their communities, propagating a teaching of tolerance and acceptance of different languages, cultures and diversity.

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Jessica De Nova

Jessica De Nova