Dillon Valley Elementary’s dual language program a hit | SummitDaily.com

Dillon Valley Elementary’s dual language program a hit

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Summit Daily/Mark Fox

SUMMIT COUNTY – A teacher rattles off instructions in Spanish to a group of fourth graders at Dillon Valley Elementary School. Everyone listens, understands and answers questions. Young kids from multi-cultural backgrounds are learning together in two languages – English and Spanish. And they understand both.

When Dillon Valley’s dual language program debuted five years ago, administrators hoped its success would create something special and lasting at the school. Now, there’s a community-wide desire to send children to the program, and a committee is searching for ways to expand it as participating students age.

“This is the first year we had to turn people away,” co-principal Gayle Jones-Westerberg said, noting that 15 to 20 students entered Dillon Valley from other places in the community this year. Closer to 100 kids spanning all grades attend Dillon Valley despite living in other neighborhoods.

She also said the dual language program is the reason why – “It’s not a comment on the other schools at all.”

And co-principal Shelly Martinez agrees: By learning another language from the age of 5, “these kids will have an advantage.”

“It’s an inclusive situation,” Martinez added. “English and Spanish speakers are relying on each other…. Everyone’s learning a second language, so it helps to create a global culture.”

According to Jones-Westerberg, having both Spanish and English speaking teachers also increases parent participation – “Staff can be meeting parents’ needs in both languages” and “there’s an expanded number of parents attending events.” Having a parent involved heavily with school positively affects a child’s academic success, she said.

Administrators have already formed a committee to envision how the language curriculum will translate into Summit Middle School. This could be a little tricky, since all the elementary schools filter into it, but something will be in place by the time Dillon Valley’s first dual language class enters middle school in two years, Martinez said. She also expressed hope it will be incorporated into high school programming five years down the line, when the fourth graders are freshman. By then, they could potentially have an option to learn a third language, like Russian or Chinese.

With so many English-language learners enrolled at Dillon Valley even seven years ago, “we thought this would be a great opportunity and setting,” Martinez said. So the curriculum started with its incoming kindergarten class five years ago, and it’s amplified with each passing year. While only two classrooms make up Dillon Valley’s original dual language class, increased enrollment has caused younger classes to be split into four.

Children are separated into classrooms, and they rotate between two teachers daily. They’re taught in both English and Spanish every day, and they rotate between subjects – learning lessons in Spanish for three weeks at a time and then switching back to English.

“One misconception is that we teach everything twice,” Martinez said. “That’s not accurate. Curriculum is a constant flow whether you’re getting it in English or Spanish.”

Already part of PYP (Primary Years Programme), Dillon Valley’s dual language program goes right along with the classroom focus on international education. PYP is the elementary school component of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme adopted by schools throughout Summit County. The IB program’s aim is to encourage inquisitiveness, global awareness and in-depth learning.

“Our goal is to develop caring learners,” Martinez said, adding that being taught in two languages from an early age creates problem solving-skills and creative thinking. “That’s the kind of employee that will be valued in our global workplace.”

Jones-Westerberg and Martinez also said Spanish-speaking kids are benefiting from the program right along with the English speakers.

“Seeing them before and after, they’re learning English at a higher, faster level,” Martinez said. “It’s more comprehensible because they’re getting it in their own language.”

And when both groups of students learn vocabulary, it’s helpful for them to read the same story in both languages for better comprehension. Children are allowed to access their native language when learning about social studies and science, so it’s easier for teachers to identify high achievers.

Though Martinez didn’t have any hard data to show classroom improvement caused by the dual language program, she did say this: “Comparing last year’s third-grade scores to this year’s third-grade scores, that is a completely different group of students, so it’s like comparing apples to oranges. We prefer to look at an individual’s data and see how that students is growing and areas we need to focus our instruction.”

For more information on the dual language program, call Dillon Valley Elementary School at (970) 468-6836.

Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at crow@summitdaily.com.

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