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Montgomery’s dual immersion draws praise

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Beatriz Chaidez teaches the morning dual immersion class at Montgomery Elementary School. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | March 12, 2014 |

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What: Parent information night focusing on both of Montgomery Elementary School’s programs — Two-Way Bilingual Immersion and traditional English program

When: 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Room B-2, Montgomery Elementary School, 1441 Danbury St.

Info: http://montgomery.djusd.net/TWBI

In their 2004 report on dual language immersion programs — such as the one started this year at Montgomery Elementary School in Davis — George Mason University researchers Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas dubbed their results “astounding,” because, they said, “We have been truly amazed at the elevated student outcomes resulting from participation in dual language programs.”

“This is the only program for English learners that fully closes the (academic achievement) gap,” they wrote in the National Association for Bilingual Education’s Journal of Research and Practice.

The pair spent two decades evaluating programs in 23 school districts in 15 states before coming to that conclusion. But parents and teachers participating in the dual language immersion program at Montgomery are just as impressed after a mere seven months.

Dubbed the Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program, Montgomery’s version was started this year in two kindergarten classes, replacing the Spanish Immersion kindergartens that had been in place since the school opened in 2001.

Montgomery always has featured two learning strands — traditional English-speaking and Spanish Immersion. But the Spanish Immersion eventually will be phased out and replaced at all grade levels by Two-Way Bilingual Immersion.

The two-way program differs from the Spanish Immersion program in both desired population and teaching method. Ideally, TWBI classes are composed of half English-speaking students and half Spanish-speaking, with a minimum of 30 percent Spanish-speaking.

The TWBI program also includes more English earlier. Spanish Immersion calls for 100 percent of instruction to be in Spanish in kindergarten and first grade, with the amount of English slowly increasing over subsequent years. By sixth grade, Spanish Immersion students are instructed in Spanish 70 percent of the time and English 30 percent, according the program’s master plan.

The two-way program, on the other hand, starts at a 90-10 ratio, with 90 percent of instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English, and progresses to a 50-50 split between the languages by the fifth grade.

The program came to Montgomery in large part in order to serve the school’s significant population of English-language learners while at the same time satisfying the sizable number of Davis parents who want their children to learn Spanish at an early age.

And while one-way Spanish Immersion programs also were found by Collier and Thomas to be extremely effective in closing the gap of English-language learners, Montgomery wasn’t drawing those students to its program.

Parents of English-language learners chose the traditional English program over Spanish Immersion by a fairly wide ratio, largely because they wanted their children to learn English quickly and feared they wouldn’t if they were in a classroom where 100 percent of instruction is in Spanish.

“They’d ask, ‘Why would we put them in a Spanish class if we want them to learn English?’ ” recalled DeKristie Adams, a parent volunteer with the program, who noted that often parents wanted their students to learn English quickly in order to translate for them.

“But the research shows English learners do better in the long run if they start reading in their native language first,” she said.

And pull-out programs, where English-language learners are regularly removed from the classroom to receive one-on-one English instruction, don’t close the achievement gap, Collier and Thomas found.

Those remedial programs, the pair wrote, “only partially close the gap. Often, the gap widens again as students move into the cognitive challenge of the secondary years.”

That is not the case for students in dual language programs, they found, where students regularly make more than one year’s progress in both languages.

The idea of dual language immersion has been around for a while and Sarah Fonte has long been a believer — so much so it brought her back into the classroom when she heard about Montgomery’s plan to create such a program.

Fonte taught science for seven years at César Chávez Elementary School before spending three years living in Colombia.

After returning to Davis, and hearing what Montgomery was up to, she applied to teach in the program.

“I’d always been an advocate for two-way immersion,” she said. “The research shows that for Latino kids, this is the best program. Native Spanish speakers come out completely bilingual. They are on grade level in all concepts and achieving in both languages.”

Fonte now teaches the afternoon TWBI kindergarten at Montgomery, while Beatriz Chaidez teaches the morning class.

Chaidez, too, is back in the classroom after a long absence, including 10 years spent as an administrator and more recently working on her Ph.D. Her husband is principal of Beamer Park Elementary School in Woodland, which also has a Spanish Immersion program.

“I’m an English-language learner myself,” she said, “and I’ve seen the benefits myself of being literate in your native language. The research I have read is that for someone who has Spanish as a native language, for them to do well in school, go on and do well in high school and then go to college … this is the best type of education.”

And it’s just as rewarding for the Spanish-language learners, she said, who not only emerge from the program bilingual, but also bicultural, because of the focus on Latino heritage and culture.

That focus also does wonders for the self-esteem of young Latino children, she noted.

When, for example, the class was focusing on the letter “M,” talk turned to Mexico, and “some students who would have been less vocal, less engaged, are the most engaged,” Chaidez said.

Fonte agreed.

“Kids remember where their families are from … it reminds them of how proud they should be,” she said.

And then there is this: “The English-speaking kids see that the Spanish-speaking kids are smart,” Fonte said. “They can learn to read faster, they’re not seen as quiet, not seen as having trouble.”

And they can serve as classroom leaders, assisting their English-speaking classmates with pronunciation or translation, just as their English-speaking classmates do the same for them.

Adams has seen it firsthand.

“I was volunteering in the classroom and my Spanish is atrocious,” she said, “and the Spanish-speaking kids would help me. I imagine if they’re doing it for me, they’re doing it for the other kids.”

That difference in the classroom environment is another thing Colliers and Thomas noted in their research. Two-way programs, they said, allow students from different backgrounds to view each other as valuable, knowledgeable learning partners.

“The respect and nurturing of the multiple cultural heritages and the two main languages present in the school lead to friendships that cross social class and language boundaries,” they added. “Teachers can see the difference in their students’ responsiveness and engagement in lessons. Behavior problems lessen because students feel valued and respected as equal partners in the learning process.”

That difference extends to the parents as well.

“In this program,” Fonte said, “Spanish-speaking parents are an asset. They come and volunteer and they can help with everything. They don’t have that outlet in (traditional) classrooms.”

Parents who don’t speak Spanish help out all the time as well, of course, and see firsthand how the program is working.

Tamica Clement Moore is one such parent.

Clement Moore was helping in the classroom last Friday as the students worked on writing and pronouncing in Spanish numbers 10 through 15.

“Before we started here, I only knew my numbers up to 10,” laughed Clement Moore. “Now they’re teaching me.”

Of her daughter, Myla, she said, “I’m surprised at how well she does. She’s already reading in English and Spanish and it’s not a big deal to her. It shows our expectations should be higher for all kids.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” she said of Myla’s progress this year. “I didn’t think she’d learn so much, so soon.”

Adams, who has a second-grader in Montgomery’s Spanish Immersion program and kindergartner Juliana in the dual immersion program, also has been thrilled about the latter program’s success.

“It has been a very positive experience for my daughter,” she said. “She is thriving and developing excellent language skills in both languages.”

She also appreciates that the dual immersion program seeks the population it does to achieve a 50-50 balance of English speakers and Spanish speakers.

“I like the diversity,” she said. “When I saw my daughter’s kindergarten picture, I got tears in my eyes … it is such a wonderful makeup of children.”

Meanwhile, Montgomery PTA president Merissa Leamy says the impact of the TWBI program extends well beyond the classroom.

Priority for enrollment in the program is given to students who live in the Montgomery attendance area, she explained. And, unlike her son’s traditional Spanish Immersion classroom at the school, which has families from all over town, “this kindergarten is definitely more people who live around the corner or down the street.”

“They’re more invested in the school,” she noted. “It’s definitely been a positive thing for the whole school.”

Families of children entering kindergarten next fall are invited to learn more about both of Montgomery’s programs — the Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program and the traditional English program — at a parent information night Thursday. Presentations are at 4 and 6 p.m. in Room B-2 at the school, 1441 Danbury St. in South Davis.

Learn more about the program by visiting the Montgomery website at http://montgomery.djusd.net/TWBI.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at aternus@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

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