SAISD Will Triple Its Dual Language Programs in 2018-19

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SAISD's Dr. Olivia Hernandez talks with principal's and assistant principal's during a dual-language training session at the Pickett Academy Tuesday morning.

Robin Jerstad for the Rivard Report

SAISD's Olivia Hernández talks with principals and assistant principals during a dual-language training session at Pickett Academy Tuesday morning.

When San Antonio Independent School District opens its doors for the 2018-19 school year, 32 campuses will implement a new dual language program, bringing the district’s total offering to 45 schools.

Students enrolled in the program will be taught English and Spanish in tandem in an effort to strengthen both languages, whereas traditional bilingual programs tend to use Spanish instruction only as a means to obtain English proficiency, Olivia Hernández, SAISD’s assistant superintendent for the Bilingual/ESL and Migrant Department, said.

Even though each class will be structured around a 50-50 ratio of native English to native Spanish speaking students, Hernández said the program is directed toward English language learners (ELLs) or students who consider a dialect other than English as their native language and have difficulty performing ordinary classwork in English.

Schools traditionally have used a bilingual program that focuses on getting students up to speed with English, but not strengthening Spanish at the same time, Hernández said. Dual language is different; it aims to fortify the native Spanish language and embrace a student’s identity.

“We cannot wait [to offer better programming] for our English language learners,” Hernández said of the district’s close to 10,000 students who qualify as ELLs. “We’ve had a remedial bilingual program for the last 50 years in this country.”

In 2016-17, only two SAISD campuses offered the dual language program. This number grew to 13 schools last year and will more than triple next year because of demand from individual principals who started reaching out to Hernández last year.

Most of the participating campuses will offer the program in one or two classrooms in pre-kindergarten through third grade with the plan to phase in grades four and five in the next two years. The majority of SAISD’s ELL students are native Spanish speakers and in grades pre-kindergarten through five.

Next year, Hernández hopes to expand the dual language program at the middle school level. Doing this can be hard without a firm foundation in both languages, which is why SAISD placed the greatest emphasis on the elementary level first.

“We want our kids to leave elementary school with a strong foundation in both Spanish and English, but also have the goal of them understanding both cultures,” Hernández said. “Once they are in middle school and have that strong foundation, we have high expectations for them to take pre-AP [and] AP courses.”

Marco Morales, principal of J.T. Brackenridge Elementary School, is one of the 32 school leaders who will implement the program on his campus for the first time next year.

In 2017, Morales worked in Houston ISD where he inquired about starting a dual language program, but at the time, his campus didn’t have enough native English speakers to balance out the native Spanish speakers. But in SAISD, with a large group of both students from which to choose, Morales plans to open up one class in a few grade levels to dual language education.

“The goal is to make Spanish-speaking families more comfortable to come to J.T. Brackenridge and creating a more safe and nurturing learning environment to teach both Spanish and English [students,]” Morales said.

In addition to the 43 schools that will offer the program in a limited format, two SAISD in-district charters – Mark Twain Dual Language Academy and Irving Dual Language Academy – will operate as 100 percent dual language campuses at which all classrooms instruct in both Spanish and English. This will enhance the bilingual learning environment, Hernández said, because it will enrich the entire school with both languages and cultures.

“Where you have English, English is always going to come through the windows, through the cracks,” Hernández told the Rivard Report.

During the past year, Irving Dual Language Academy Principal Olivia Almanza worked to prepare for the opening of her immersive school, which will open with its first class of pre-kindergarten through second grade students in 2018-19.

Almanza, who hails from the Rio Grande Valley, said she can appreciate how important a dual language education is.

“It is about maintaining the first language, while also adding in a second and developing the skills to have a more global education,” Almanza said, noting that she has 20 to 30 families on the waitlist for her younger grades.

The Irving principal said she has had to recruit families to enroll for the second grade, however, and believes it might be because starting dual language education at a slightly older age is less common. Parents may not know the program is offered if their students haven’t previously experienced it at a younger age.

Hernández noted principals and staff often have to put in this kind of work to achieve the optimal class balance among native languages.

“What we don’t want to do is to gentrify it,” she said, “where the native English speaker is taking it over.”

20 thoughts on “SAISD Will Triple Its Dual Language Programs in 2018-19

  1. Wrong just plain wrong. This is USA… Not Mexico… Texas slowly turning into Mexico. What is the reason to learn Spanish…maybe the Mexicans need to learn English. How can they drive if they cannot read signs….

    • Most if not all other nations teach students at least one foreign language. The USA has a peculiar dislike for this as many bigots despise other nations.
      What’s missing is the ignoring of the fact that for most Chicano people, Spanish isn’t our native language. Our native language depends on what indigenous tribe we descended from. A subject even more controversial than Spanish.

      • This is the dumbest statement I’ve seen on RR.

        That said, one thing that is missing from this piece is whether the dual-language program has been successful. I venture that just as bi-lingual programs failed, dual-language has not been proven to accomplish anything. I bet the results are worse than we can imagine.
        The focus of the program on the culture angle is a dead giveaway that this is just some progressive idea. Assuming, arguendo, that a cultural element should be included, which culture would be chosen? Sonora, Yucatan, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, well you get the idea. Hispanic is a broad term that encompasses many cultures, it is no monolithic. It goes beyond whether you eat pavo or guajalote at Thanksgiving.
        And the English speaking kids dumped into the program, what do they get? As it is, they graduate from high school with poor language skills, such that they need remedial English classes if they are to attend an institution of higher learning, even if it is but a two-year program. They cannot comprehend the language, let alone construct proper sentences. How will this program help them?
        The nation of Israel has assimilated tens upon tens of thousands of immigrants whose native tongues are English, French, Polish, German, Hungarian, Arab, Hindi, Persian, Vietnamese etc. etc. The first thing the kids are taught is to speak Hebrew. They do not lose their cultural identity, their families stay in tact, but they learn the lingua franca. They become literate Israelis.
        This dual-language program seems designed to keep Hispanic speaking immigrants from becoming Americans, but to retain them as an underclass unable to function in our society. The English speakers in this program will be dragged down with them.

        • There is a great body of research on the benefits of dual language learning. Students who learn in a dual language setting outperform their peers by 4th grade and continue to do so through high school.

          That said, not every child thrives and we must make sure we continue to offer English language programs in every neighborhood school.

          No kid is “dumped” into it, in fact, the waiting list is extremely long for English speakers. This is part of the problem, so many English speaking families want to get into the program, there aren’t enough native Spanish speakers to balance out that 50/50 ratio.

    • Did you read the article carefully? It is a BILINGUAL program. Students learn two languages and become proficient in both. They will be more than able to read signs in English. As a mater of fact they will be able to obtain advanced degrees (masters or doctorate) in English. Speaking from experience!

      • How can they become proficient in two languages when with today’s program they do not become proficient in one?

  2. So glad SAISD is doing this. So many studies have shown that dual language skills help students in Math as well as with other critical thinking skills. And celebrating our dual culture is something to be proud about! But as a taxpayer and former SAISD employee I believe the changes SAISD has to make are in its management and discipline. The district officers are often rude and dictatorial with school employees, the need for data is never-ending while good school discipline is rarely found. Many principals remove themselves from contact with students and parents. Perhaps management should be in the classrooms where teachers really need the help.

  3. I am not sure how the dual language approach will help the SAISD ‘s dismal college readiness rates. Perhaps we need to double down on making sure ALL students know English as quickly as possible then make a big push to improve our college readiness rates. If we do not improve the quality of our high school graduates we will be betraying ALL our students! Let the parents and grandparents teach the Spanish like mine did for me.

    • You are ignoring a lot of studies that indicate that learning a second language (in addition to being a course requirement for Texas high schools) can actually increase chances of getting into college. Learning a second language has been shown to cause the brain to develop other neuron pathways that single-language speakers do not have and can increase academic performance, similar to how learning to play an instrument is also shown to increase academic performance. You’re also ignoring that there are a lot of English-speaking folks who would like to become fluent in Spanish to increase their opportunities (and who don’t have parents or grandparents who know the language to teach it). I, for one, really regretted that my family didn’t provide me that opportunity, when I moved to Argentina to work as a 23-year old with elementary Spanish skills. It took me a good 9 months to become fluent and it was painful. I am so grateful for these programs and hope that my daughters get an opportunity to participate and open up so many other opportunities.

      • You are a case in point. It is nigh to impossible to become fluent in a foreign language without total immersion when every radio program you listen to, tv show you watch, newspaper you read (ever so painfully), and even billboards are in the language you are trying to learn.

        It’s hard! But to do it you need to master one language first. The second language may unlike English put adjectives behind the noun, but once you have mastered structure you can figure it out. If you don’t know the rules to begin with, you will flounder.

        • The fact that they are so popular that my oldest daughter didn’t get in through the lottery, and my youngest is a year from being able to apply.

          And there are PLENTY of children who grow up in dual language households, learning both languages at once–there’s nothing that says you have to learn one first and then the other.

          I didn’t learn Spanish by knowing rules–I learned it like you said–by immersion, by seeing that a jewelry store is called a “joyeria” when I read the sign out front, and by reading the billboards and newspapers, listening to the radio. Your arguments contradict each other–on the one hand you say you need immersion (what these schools are offering–both languages) but on the other you have to learn the “rules”.

          I, for one, am very excited, and I’ll put my kids there in a heartbeat, if they are accepted.

          • You misapprehend me. An Englis speaker grows up knowing to say “the green house.” When learning Spanish the student is taught that the order of the noun and adjective is reversed, so la casa verde, or the house green. That is a simple rule but to understand it the student must know what is a noun, what is an adjective. The student might get it by happenstance, but that’s a tough way to negotiate all the rules. Btw, in ebreo it is a house green, or the house the green. Bayit yarok, ha-bayit ha-yarok.

  4. Very terrible reporting!!!!

    Is there any of these dual language programs in other schools in San Antonio?

    How long have they existed?
    What do the critics of these programs say?
    Give both sides of the issue. Pro side……Con side

    Very poor reporting. If there are none- mention that.

    If there are others. Where? What schools? How do the students like it?
    How long have they existed? Interview the parents of students of these programs wherever they exist.

    Very poor reporting.

    • nail on the head.

      Learning a language in school is not the same as living a language. Alamo Heights had a Spanish immersion program, how did that work out? Just asking.

      The great writer Jacob Bronowski in his book and tv series The Ascent of Man said he grew up speaking only Polish. By the time he wrote his book and recorded his program, he could speak no Polish at all. Importantly, he averred, he had by six years old learned a language and its structure and without that he’d have been like a child raised by wolves.

      Once you know a language and its rules it is easier to learn others, even if their constructs are different from than that which you know. As for speaking a foreign language, the difficulty in making the proper sounds if often tongue placement. The ALI book which I used in a Spanish class at college showed precisely how to place the tongue to achieve a certain sound. I know with practice it works.

      • My kids have grown up learning 2 languages in our home since the day they were born. They have learned a 3rd in a dual language program since age 5 (plus some exposure before that). They are incredibly verbal and have no problems speaking.

        They won’t become fully fluent until they live in a country where those languages are spoken, but their knowledge of the 2 non-English languages is extensive and they will have no trouble communicating when necessary. I’m envious they have such an opportunity!

  5. All the articles in favor of such programs are well and good, but how about some hard facts from our own schools. Is that too much to ask, or are we just supposed to go along with this feel good program. I spoke with a teacher, formerly Alamo Heights, now teaching in England. Her immediate response was “Recipe for disaster.”

  6. It’s a great idea to expand this to more schools in the U.S. Canada has done this for decades with French, and had great success. The fact is, it’s easier to learn a language fluently and without an accent the younger you start. Five year olds don’t need to be formally taught the parts of speech to pick up on word order in their second language. They learn it organically, just like toddlers learn their first language’s rules. Later on, yes, it’s good to learn grammar to become a better writer. But starting to learn your second language at 14 is much harder, because you have to learn the rules formally and memorize everything by rote. At any rate, children in most countries routinely start their second language in second grade, and their third in before middle school. By age 14, they are expected to be functionally fluent in at least two languages. Those who grew up in mixed language households or who complete a college prep program are routinely fluent in three. American kids have this capacity too. It’s just that we traditionally start foreign language instruction too old and one hour a day for three school years isn’t sufficient to get much beyond basic conversational skills.

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