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Kilgore ISD dual language program aims to teach students for life

By Reese Gordon rgordon@news-journal.com
Jan. 26, 2014 at 11 p.m.


KILGORE - Students in Angelica Navarro's dual-language kindergarten class are just beginning to learn the basics of Spanish, their native language.

But with a growing number of Hispanic students enrolled in Kilgore ISD, school administrators have implemented the One-Way Dual Language Enrichment Program this school year, which incorporates English into the students' learning.

Navarro has taught dual-language classes for 19 years and said the skills learned in them are necessary for all students to become successful later in life.

"We're moving the students to become truly bilingual and biliterate," Navarro said. "Not just learning one language but being able to compete in business and work by being able to speak two languages.

"They're going to learn to read and write and communicate in both. That's a big advantage."

Liliana Llamas' daughter, Aylin, is one of Navarro's students.

She said she has witnessed progress in her daughter's ability to speak both languages and is excited for the opportunity the program offers.

"This is very beneficial for my children," Llamas said through an interpreter. "It makes it a lot easier for them to learn English and is something I didn't have the opportunity to do growing up."

Cecila Sanchez said her son, Alan, now in kindergarten, is excited to be able to speak and learn in Spanish and English.

"He's doing pretty good," she said. "Since he first started to talk, it's been only Spanish. Now that he's learning both languages in the classroom, it's been really good. He gets confused sometimes with the letters as well as pronunciation, but it's been good."

Jennifer Bailey, director of bilingual education and ESL at Kilgore ISD, said Friday that the 2013-14 school year is the first year the district has adopted a dual-language approach for its students.

For the past 14 years, Bailey said the district has had to file an exception with the Texas Education Agency to offer an alternative program through English as a second language (ESL) due to lack of bilingual certified staff.

"Both Alan and Aylin only had ESL last year because that's all we had," Bailey said. "They were thrown into just English only. It's been a little bit of our shift for our kindergarten students because there was no reading in Spanish last year. And now it's reading in Spanish and in English."

Texas law requires schools to offer bilingual education if a school has 20 or more English language learners (ELLs) in a grade level who speak the same native language.

<h3>Search for teachers</h3>

Bailey said she hopes to grow the dual-language program to four classrooms next year, but needs more qualified bilingual teachers to do so.

She said Kilgore ISD has made a strong commitment to lure bilingual teachers, offering a $5,500 stipend for instructors who can teach both languages.

"We've started small, but we've started with high quality teachers and high expectations," she said.

According to Bailey, the district's 2013 snapshot enrollment in October revealed that there are 630 "English-language learners" in Kilgore ISD representing 14 languages. The population grew from 552 in 2012.

Kilgore Primary School has 257 students who speak Spanish as their native language, Bailey said.

"This makes it equal," she said. "You're supporting the students in their native language and teaching them academic skills. School is about teaching academic skills. It's not about teaching language. Language is a bi-product of that."

<h3>Growth</h3>

Pine Tree ISD also has seen its dual language program grow since its inception in 2009.

According to Bilingual/ESL Coordinator Viki Sparks, there were about 120 students in the program when it began.

She said the district now has about 400 students involved in the dual-language program and has seen the ELL population grow by 10 percent during the past year.

Longview ISD's Director of Bilingual Education Joseph Pino said the district offers bilingual education starting in Pre-K.

"We start at 90 percent Spanish instruction," he said. "And the goal is to have the students using 90 percent English by the end of the fifth grade."

Pino said Longview ISD has 1,200 students in its bilingual and ESL programs - an increase of 48 students since this past year.

The use of graphics is one of the methods that Navarro uses to teach both languages to her students in Kilgore. She has a sign on her door that lets students know what language they will be learning with each day.

"It's like when you learn the water cycle in English," she said. "If I showed the chart in French, would you be able to understand it if I showed you a graphic? You would because you learned it in English. Now the only thing you need to do now is change vocabulary. They learn the content, understand it and then are able to learn the vocabulary and truly understand what is going on."

Bailey said one benefit of the dual language program is that it helps students achieve grade level skills in their native language first rather than just trying to teach them English terms right off the bat like ESL programs do.

"ESL is English only so the native language support is not there," she said. "That's the problem. That's where bilingual is superior because there's no gap to be bridged."

To determine which students needed to be placed in the dual language program at KISD, Bailey said the district tested students using the Woodcock-Munoz Language Survey at the beginning of this school year.

She said the long-term goal of KISD's dual-language program is to move to a "two-way" model, in which English speaking students get immersed in Spanish starting at the Pre-K and kindergarten levels.

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