Parents choose Dillon Valley for dual-language program |

Parents choose Dillon Valley for dual-language program

ROBERT ALLENsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

DILLON On a recent trip to the movies, Jennifer Wright noticed her 9-year-old daughter Sophie laughing at the jokes in Spanish between the talking dogs in Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Sophie and the Spanish speakers in the audience were laughing, while Wright didnt understand the language enough to get the jokes.A third-grader at Dillon Valley Elementary, Sophie entered the schools dual-language program in kindergarten and now is speaking espaol with ease.Shes doing remarkably well, her mother said.Now in its fourth year, the dual-language program increasingly is attracting students like Sophie, who live outside Dillon Valley, to Summit School Districts only school to integrate both English and Spanish fully into core classes such as math, science and social studies.Sophie and her brother, John, 7, live near Summit Cove Elementary, but Wright said she enrolled them at Dillon Valley specifically because of the dual-language opportunity.About 75 Dillon Valley students attend the school despite living in other neighborhoods, and about 15 to 20 option in each year, said principal Gayle Jones Westerberg.Its always worked out for us that the same number we could handle were the same number that were interested, Westerberg said. If the demand grows too high, she said, a cap could be imposed, perhaps with a lottery to decide which students may enroll. Superintendent Millie Hamner said at a recent school board meeting that increased demand could lead to the programs expansion to other schools. Dillon Valleys program expands to the next grade level each year, presently serving kindergarten through third grade. District officials are at work on plans for the transition in three years, when todays third graders leave for Summit Middle School. Meanwhile, Dillon Valley is working to ensure adequate resources as the program grows. Two staff members were added this year to accommodate two new classrooms, Westerberg said. The growth isnt just because of transfers.We just have a lot of babies in Dillon Valley. There are a lot of families with children, she said.The school has about 360 students. Some classrooms for dual-language students appear as one big room divided in half, with Spanish talk audible on one side and English on the other. The native speakers of both languages are mixed with their classmates, separating only for English- and Spanish-as-a-Second-Language classes, when students learn key vocabulary soon to appear in their curriculum. Dillon Valley principal Shelly Martinez said students will alternate classrooms every three weeks in a flow between languages.Westerberg said some parents have the perception that everything learned in English is learned again in Spanish. Rather, in accordance with district and state standards, the students are constantly learning new material, regardless of the language. The program was based on visits to 10 schools and researching methods at 10 to 20 others. Staff members also attend conferences and follow dual-language research and evaluation reports nationwide, Westerberg said. The school is one of perhaps 24 worldwide to fuse its dual-language program with International Baccalaureate an education model that takes learning deeper, encourages global awareness and aims to make students more inquisitive. Westerberg said though dual-language and IB programs are widespread, there are few instances of combinations because its challenging, with a tremendous amount of professional development.But schools that have married both of them are having tremendous success, she said. The benefits to the community go beyond academia, bringing cultures together. Julie Fishman works at the middle school and lives in the Upper Blue Elementary School zone. Maia, her 5-year-old daughter, is enrolled at Dillon Valley. Fishman said the kindergartner is already able to pick out her clothes in Spanish.Its really astonishing that not only the language piece, but I think culturally she just has an open mind about who her friends can be which isnt bound by what language they speak, she said. I cant tell you how much that thrills me.Wright said her daughter, Sophie, has had many play dates with a Spanish-speaking family.The mom and I decided that when the girls are at my house, they speak in English, and at her house, in Spanish, she said. As the kids make friends, the mom and I try to talk as well as we can to each other … (Were) becoming friends as well.Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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