At Dillon Valley Elementary, students switch between languages all day every day
At 11 a.m. Thursday morning, 8-year-old Josie Riberdy popped into her homeroom class to grab a folder. Then she walked through her school’s media center, down a hallway and into another classroom.
The third-grader with brown bangs and freckles sat down at a desk in the back corner of the room.
“¿Qué hicimos ayer?” asked the teacher, Evangelina Riveros, once all the kids were seated. (“What did we do yesterday?”) Students answered that they read part of a book called “Robo en la noche” (“Robbery in the Night”).
Josie flipped to capítulo dos (chapter two) and pulled out a sheet of notebook paper where she had written in large letters, “El avión es como un ave. Los aviones vuelan muy alto.” (The airplane is like a bird. Airplanes fly very high.)
For the next half hour, Ms. Evangelina, who is originally from Argentina, helped students pronounce words they read aloud and asked them questions about what they read. “Muy buena memoria. Muy bien,” she said to one student. (Very good memory. Very good.)
Meanwhile, Josie added new Spanish words, like manejar (to drive), to her paper.
Josie attends Dillon Valley Elementary, which offers the only dual-language program in Summit County. Since the program began in 2005, the school’s native English- and Spanish-speaking students have been speaking, listening, reading, writing and learning in both languages every day.
ECONOMICS IN ENGLISH
When Ms. Evangelina’s class ended, Josie walked back to her homeroom class, where Nicole Luse is the teacher. Josie explained that Ms. Luse, who doesn’t speak Spanish, will be her homeroom teacher until next week. Then she’ll switch to Mr. Jose’s homeroom class.
In a typical day, Josie bounces back and forth between English and Spanish more times than she can count. The school divides its four third-grade classes into two teams, and each team splits their classroom time 50:50 with an English-speaking teacher and a Spanish-speaking teacher.
One week Josie learns new math concepts in Spanish and the next week her English-speaking teacher continues the math lessons in English. The same goes for reading.
Before settling at her desk, Josie pulled out a small plastic container with a handful of carrot sticks. The class took a snack break as the kids still have an hour and a half before lunch.
Ms. Luse reminded the class that they are learning about economics and finances in their social studies unit this week. She played a few short videos about children earning and saving money, including one with children in Australia, and Josie wrote down her thoughts and answered questions in English.
“He is very nice to make mony for his comunity [sic],” she wrote. “I think he is very smart.”
Dillon Valley’s dual-language approach aims to address rapidly changing demographics in Colorado.
In the Summit School District last year, one in three of the county’s roughly 3,200 students were Hispanic and one in five were learning English as a second language.
Those portions grow at the elementary level and at schools in neighborhoods with more Hispanic people, like Dillon Valley Elementary and Silverthorne Elementary.
MATH IN SPANISH
At noon, Josie walked back to Ms. Evangelina’s classroom.
“¿Qué hicimos ayer?” Ms. Evangelina asked again, noticing Josie’s raised hand.
“Hicimos los problemas con los cuadros en el papel,” Josie said, referring to the tablas matemáticas, or times tables.
The class recited the times tables in Spanish. Trece por cinco, sesenta y cinco … Trece por ocho, ciento cuatro. (Thirteen times five, 65 … Thirteen times eight, 104.)
“¿Estos son los más difícil, no? Porque son los numerous más grandes,” Ms. Evangelina said. (“These are the hardest ones, right? Because they’re the biggest numbers.”)
Then Ms. Evangelina passed out a worksheet with math problems on it for the students to work on it in pairs. The Spanish directions stumped Josie and her partner, who talk in English about what they’re supposed to do. Josie decided she needed help.
“I’m going to ask her. That’s the best way to find out,” she said. She walked over to Ms. Evangelina, who was helping other students.
“¿Maestra, qué es la última parte …?” she said, pointing to a spot on the paper. (“Teacher, what is the last part …?”)
Because Josie has advanced math and reading skills, she spends extra time every day learning those subjects in Spanish with Ms. Evangelina.
Besides teaching proficiency in both languages, the school hopes its dual-language program will help close the achievement gap between English- and non-English-speaking children, instill respect for different cultures among the students and assist them in the workforce as they grow older.
NOW SHE KNOWS AGUACATE
At 12:30 p.m. it’s time for recess.
Outside, Josie and her friends did somersaults, cartwheels, back bends and headstands in the grassy field. Josie pretended to be a lawnmower, scooping up dead grass and throwing it in the air with a smile.
Then the girls ran to a climbing structure, where they swung from the bars and chatted in English about their friends, families and how it’s way too hot outside to be wearing tights. One of the girls pointed to a few Hispanic boys playing with a soccer ball and said she would like to play soccer with some of the other kids if they didn’t play too rough.
At 1 p.m. the third-graders walked inside for lunch. Generally, the students sat next to other kids who spoke their native language.
Between bites of her ham, cheese and salami sandwich, Josie explained that she’s used her Spanish on two family trips to Mexico.
Two years ago, she said, her parents were grocery shopping in a small Mexican store and couldn’t find everything they needed. Josie and her big sister helped by asking store employees for things they knew how to say, like crema del sol (sunscreen) and describing things they didn’t, like avocado.
“Verde en el medio con una semilla grande,” Josie recalled. (Green in the middle with a large seed.)
This was when she was in first grade and didn’t know the word aguacate, she said.
SWITCHING WITHOUT PAUSE
After the half-hour lunch, Josie returned to her homeroom, where Ms. Luse told the students who speak Spanish at home to stay where they are and the ones who speak English at home to line up by the door.
The class divided in half as the hispanohablantes, Spanish speakers, stayed seated to work on their English with Ms. Luse, and the angloparlantes, English speakers, walked next door to improve their Spanish with Mr. Jose.
Jose San Miguel, who moved to Summit with his family this summer from Madrid, instructed students to act out the Spanish verbs andar (to walk), escuchar (to listen) and mirar (to look).
In half a school day, Josie studied reading in Spanish, learned about finance in English, practiced math in Spanish and giggled with friends in English. Her brain seemed to switch without pause between the two languages.
While drawing and narrating pictures in Spanish, Josie talked in English to her friend. Mr. Jose overheard and reminded her, “Español, Josie.”
In another hour, she would return to learning in English. For now though, she picked up a tablet and headphones to listen to a story called “Ay Caramba” in Spanish.
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