Nearly 80 percent of Godfrey-Lee families are Hispanic

District Explores Building Bilingual Program

Leaders See Broad Language Literacy as ‘Gift’ for Students

by Erin Albanese  

Educators are hoping to capitalize on a major strength many students in the majority Hispanic district already have: bilingualism. The district is exploring the possibility of starting a dual-language program in preschool next year.

The goal is to build a strong foundation of Spanish and English speaking and reading skills among Godfrey-Lee students.

"I don't think there's any question that it would be good for us," said Assistant Superintendent Carol Lautenbach. "All our students come with strengths. This is one that is readily available for us to capitalize on."

Jessica Crampton, the district's director of student services, the K-12 Bilingual Team of teachers and Lautenbach are considering a 90/10 two-way dual-language class, with half of the students native-English and half native-Spanish speakers.

A representative from add.a.lingua, a Zeeland-based company that supports the development of language-immersion programs, and the district team presented findings to the Godfrey-Lee Board of Education recently from a parent and staff survey showing interest and questions. About 30 parents also attended information sessions.

Words of the World: Learning Foreign Language, is a new series of School News Network focusing on the importance of teaching language in an increasingly global culture.

Godfrey Early Childhood Center students sang and danced in Spanish for Hispanic Heritage monthThe idea is still in the research phase, and could make a recommendation in the next few months to move forward or not with implementation. Much will depend on the number of teachers interested and able to teach Spanish as students advance through grade levels.

In a 90/10 model, students are taught all core instruction in Spanish, with teaching done in English in special subjects like physical education and art, through second grade. English is introduced in core instruction after that, until it's a 50/50 model by seventh grade. As a result, both populations become fully bilingual.

If implemented, the program would begin with preschool next year, then add a grade each year after that. Parents would choose whether they want their children to be in the program.

"We have such a high percentage of students that are Spanish-speaking, it seems like a good fit for our community," Crampton said. Many times, English-language learners are viewed as having a deficit when, really, speaking two languages is an asset. "It's making it more inclusive, more equitable," she noted.

Tapping into the Community's Strengths

More than 60 percent of Godfrey-Lee students are ELL, and about 78 percent are Hispanic. The district is going through a human-centered design process to tap into true needs of students and families.

"The driving factor in design thinking is building on strengths of staff, students, families and community to build a joyful learning experience," Lautenbach said. "This was identified as one untapped strength. We don't really tap into the language kids speak 80 percent of the time – when they are not at school – if it isn't English."

The goal is to strengthen literacy levels in both languages. "Middle school is when you start to see the benefit in test scores," Crampton said. "That's when it starts all coming together and making sense."

While more than 50 percent of people worldwide speak more than one language, the United States is largely monolingual. But the Godfrey-Lee environment is already multilingual.

"Are we able to give that gift, to provide (bilingual education) to students who already come to us with that potential?" Lautenbach asked. "They are in a bilingual environment every day. The kids are conversing in numerous languages."


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Parents sang in Spanish during a traditional Mexican holiday observance called Las Posadas

Submitted on: November 21st 2017

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