Making the Grade: Leslie Davison
December 21, 2005
Twelve years ago, teacher Leslie Davison brought the first Spanish language classes to the students of Dillon Valley Elementary. Now, after an absence of many years, she has returned to contribute new and valuable innovations to the school’s curriculum.Davison left Summit County to teach in Denver for a few years. In 1998, she made another move – to Honduras, where she spent a year teaching in Teguz.”I love the whole international scene,” said the Michigan native, who spent time living in Spain and Mexico during her college years. “I don’t just teach and travel in these other countries – I also develop relationships with families. I was invited to weddings and other family events because I was able to participate in the family life by speaking Spanish.” Davison was in Honduras during the onset and aftermath of Hurricane Mitch and helped recovery efforts by providing food, clothes and supplies to people living in devastated areas. After some years as a globe-trotting teacher, Davison decided she wanted to move back to the mountains. Her decision brought her back to Dillon Valley, where she continues to add to her list of achievements. This year, Davison has helped to establish a major innovation for the school – the creation of the school’s new dual language program. Targeted to involve grades K-5, the dual language program was begun this fall in Davison’s kindergarten class. A work in progress, it will evolve by adding one grade every year. Next year, the present kindergarten class will continue their dual language studies as they advance to the first grade, while a new kindergarten class will be added to the program. This way, the school hopes to include all elementary school grades in the program within the next few years.
Davison currently has 21 English speaking students and 36 Spanish-speaking students in her kindergarten class. Both groups are learning English and Spanish simultaneously.”Our goal is for the English-speakers to learn Spanish, and for the Spanish-speakers to learn English while keeping their own native language as well,” Davison said. As they get older, the mixed group of students will continue to be taught their academic courses in both English and Spanish. “This school is a model,” Davison said. “They’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time, and now we have not only supportive administration, but we also have parents who are realizing the importance of being bilingual and wondering why it can’t start in kindergarten.”Davison is a strong believer in the importance of students understanding and having access to different cultures. “Lots of issues arise due to miscommunication,” she said. “Empathy with other cultures helps.”According to Davison, there are only about 10 schools in Colorado that are actively participating in a dual-language curriculum. Davison feels that all students can benefit from the program. “It serves both populations,” she said. “Test scores have been better already this year.”
“And for the Spanish-speaking kids, if they can learn something in their native language first and then transfer it into English, it’s so much easier for them,” she added.In addition to implementing the dual language program at Dillon Valley, Davison has achieved another accomplishment for which she can be proud. In November, she was awarded National Board Certification. Davison is one of only 16 teachers in Colorado to be accorded the honor this year.National Board Certification demands a stringent evaluation process which takes three years to complete. During the board review, Davison had to provide videos of herself teaching in class, along with written samples of her work and her students’ work as well. She also had to take oral and written tests, and present examples of her educational efforts both in and out of the classroom.Davison also had to provide documentation of her accomplishments going back over the last 10 years. “I had to show what I brought back to the classroom from Honduras and Spain,” she said. For Davison, the long hours of examination in order to achieve National Board Certification were worth it.”It’s tons of work, but it’s super-valuable,” Davison said. “You review your own progress and how it impacts your students.”
“I would like to get more teachers to take this on,” she added. “It’s very applicable to what you do as a teacher.”Challenges: To continue stressing the importance of teaching and learning a second language. It doesn’t have to be “I had French in high school and can’t speak a thing.” Language learning should be life-long learning, not just a memorization project. We’re a mono-linguistic society. We’re the only country speaking one language and that’s embarrassing. I hope this is a start.Goals: To help these kids, who are the leaders of tomorrow, to be bilingual and bicultural.Gratifications: Seeing the kids learn a second language so effortlessly. I love that. They’re not intimidated. What is the one thing about you that would surprise your colleagues and students? I have a piece of the Berlin Wall in my desk. I was in Germany when the wall went down, and I was standing on the wall as it was coming down underneath my feet.- Keely Brown