Bringing bilingual to the middle school |

Bringing bilingual to the middle school

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Janice Kurbjun

It wasn’t easy to make out what the cluster of Summit Middle School sixth-grade students were saying, since they chattered in a mixture of Spanish and English.

The group was comprised of roughly 40 dual-language students, most of whom had come to the middle school as the first graduating class of dual-language students from Dillon Valley Elementary School.

The students say they’re excited to be part of the program, which is somewhat set apart from the other students, but is integrated in other ways. For these students, humanities is taught in Spanish, by Ivanna Aguerre, while other students are taught the same subject material in English. During their elective period, they take language arts in their native language.

“It’s exciting, because we’re the first generation that’s in the dual-language program,” student Isabel Serrano said.

Fellow student Sindell Perez said it’s fun to be in the program because it’s different than what other students are doing. And for Tuner McDonald, it’s about positioning himself for better job opportunities later in life.

Still, it’s not easy to learn two languages at once, McDonald admitted, and Sage Kent agreed.

“It’s fun learning two languages,” Kent said. “I came in second grade. It was hard to keep up with the kids who were fluent since kindergarten, but it’s a lot easier for me now because I’m fluent.”

Max Hess, who had to give up learning trumpet to stay in the program (the class periods conflict), said it’s helpful to have Aguerre as a teacher. She’s fluent, he said, and she speaks quickly. That helps him understand better as well as practice speaking more rapidly.

Paola Chinchilla, who’s new to learning English, says the dual-language program helps her connect with students of other cultures.

“She’s a new English learner,” said Bethann Huston, the English language acquisition teacher. “This gives her the sense that her culture is here (at Summit Middle School), so there’s a sense of comfort. … Her language is respected and people value Spanish here.”

Huston said data shows students have greater literacy when they’re bilingual. A dual-language program also allows native Spanish speakers to retain their first language.

It’s also attractive to some students and their families, like Grant Morgan, who tested into the program this year as a sixth-grader. The test assesses whether he has enough literacy in the second language to excel in the program. He came to the program from Silverthorne Elementary.

“It’s a great way to learn a new language and expand your horizons,” Morgan said of the program.

He and the others will continue the program into seventh and eighth grades, because school officials have committed to keeping the dual-language program around. Huston said staffing may be a challenge, particularly in seventh and eighth grades, when teachers need content certifications as well as fluency in both languages.

For Aguerre, it’s important the community values the program and continues it.

“This is something people have to value,” she said. “We not only teach language skills … We teach to be open-minded and to feel and live the language and the culture it has. They learn the same content, but in Spanish.”

It’s not common to have such a program, Aguerre added. Typically, students have to study abroad to have the same exposure to language and to understand how that language is part of a bigger world.

“You can do that right here in Summit County,” she said. “It’s a fusion of cultures.”

She explained that language is an emotional tool to connect with people on the planet. It’s a physical tool because the bilingual brain statistically performs better. It’s an economic tool because students are better positioned for success in life.

“(Students) are feeling they’re part of something cool here and want to be recognized. They’re different, but different in a really cool way,” Huston said.

Aguerre finished her third and last year in Summit School District and will be moving on to teach in Kuwait, but she emphasized that the program should continue.

“What is happening in the classroom is enriching the community,” she said. “It’s valuable and it’s free.”

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