On Tuesday morning, children from Ivanna Aguerre's sixth-grade humanities class lined up outside Summit Middle School for a fire drill, as did students from neighboring classrooms. But there was one difference: Aguerre's instructions, along with the responses from her class, were all given in Spanish.
The sixth-graders are the first batch of students from Dillon Valley Elementary to have gone all the way through the school's dual-language program, which started in 2005. This is not only their first year at the middle school, but the school's first experience with kids who have been through the curriculum.
And, the students are doing well. Really well, in fact, according to the district's dual-language coordinator Leslie Davison, who also taught the children starting in kindergarten. Davison worked not just with their transition to middle school but also with their studies. At the end of last school year, program administrators at Dillon Valley assessed the level of Spanish language proficiency English-dominant students had acquired with the Student Oral Proficiency Assessment, created by the Center for Applied Linguistics, a national nonprofit. The organization works to improve communication through a better understanding of language and culture.
The test was given to students in both second and fifth grades through a recorded one-on-one interview, then scored by members of the center in Washington, D.C. While the second-graders were on track with their peers, the fifth-graders' scores were "out of the park," according to Davison. Many students' scores were on par with what's usually expected from high school graduates.
"The dual-language program at DVE seems very strong, and the students are making excellent progress in their acquisition of Spanish oral proficiency and listening comprehension," said Beverly Boyson, a consultant at CAL.
Martie Semmer used to teach Spanish for Summit School District, but now works as a world-language education consultant for the nonprofit. She helped administer the test at DVE.
"I was amazed," Semmer said of the students' results. "As a whole, they are so proficient ... it is so important they be able to work with people across linguistic borders."
Sixth-grader Anne Mathis enjoyed taking the assessment, and likes Aguerre's humanities class, taught entirely in Spanish (the content is entirely the same as an English-taught class).
"I feel really proud of myself because it's not an easy class to take," Mathis said.
The DVE graduates take that, and also have the option of a different Spanish class than their peers without the same background.
Mathis' score on the assessment test was one of the best, Davison said, lining up with what would normally be expected of a beginning language teacher.
"My high school kids are reading the same thing she's reading in fifth grade," Davison said.
And, Davison said that despite some previous concerns from parents their dual-language learners might not fully absorb subjects taught in Spanish, many are now telling her their children are doing better than expected in English-taught classes.
"It certainly wasn't a detriment to their content," Davison said. "The kids have a sense of pride."
Middle School principal Joel Rivera said so far, the number of children proficient in both the English and Spanish humanities classes are equal, and a "relatively high percentage" at that.
"That's good considering we have the same content, and the same assessments," Rivera said. He's interested to see how the children perform on state tests.
One thing Rivera has heard from teachers, and noticed himself, is the way the dual-language students interact with others; They seem to be comfortable with everyone.
"They've already been introduced to different backgrounds, different cultures," he said.
Davison also touts the side effect as one of the benefits of going through a dual-language program, and said it not only makes the kids more accepting of other cultures, but more willing to learn about them.
"They're just more aware," she said. "They're interested in all languages."
That, along with the ability to fluently speak another language will benefit the students' futures.
"The second that I learned Spanish was the second I didn't have to worry about a job," Davison said. "It's definitely more of a global society than before."