Bilingual path has parents, kids happy
By Diane Carman
Denver Post Columnist
January 14, 2003
For Thanksgiving, Patrick Ridgeway and his family went to Mexico. It was a typical vacation
except for one thing: Their interpreter was a 5-year-old who grew up in their English-speaking
Their daughter, Nora, is in her second year at the Academia Ana Marie Sandoval and, while
it's overstating it to suggest she's ready for simultaneous translation work, the kindergartner is
well on her way to being comfortably bilingual and eagerly multicultural.
Oh, and she's learning to read, too."It's incredible," said Ridgeway, who's not just proud - he's
envious.Ridgeway, who was among dozens of activists who lobbied Denver Public Schools for
the creation of the dual-language Montessori School, said he objects to the no-frills,
one-size-fits-all approach to education that has swept the country in recent years. He wanted
something different for his daughter."The global economy requires a different approach," he
said. "We wanted her to be prepared."
Gradually, as word of the Academia's program ripples across northwest Denver, more parents
are clamoring for dual-language education."It's an emerging movement," Ridgeway said. "We're
getting lots of calls - especially now that Amendment 31 failed."Academia parents were
among the most ardent opponents to the English-only initiative. "That would have
destroyed our school," Ridgeway said. "We had to stop it."
JoAnn Trujillo-Hays, principal at Academia Sandoval, explained the program as step-by-step
immersion.Of the 215 children enrolled, 45 percent are native Spanish speakers and 55 percent
are English speakers.They start with the 3-year-olds, teaching 75 percent of their classes in
their native language and 25 percent in the second language. By fourth grade, the ratio will be
50/50. Ultimately, every child is expected to be fluent in reading, writing and speaking both
Spanish and English.
"I consider being bilingual just a start for these children," Trujillo-Hays said. "Once they learn
two languages, additional languages will come easily for them."
While the language skills are important to the parents, even more valuable is the sense of
community that has developed - not only among the culturally diverse children but among their
parents."We're forging friendships and working together to build a community," Ridgeway said.
"As parents, we're working for a common future for our children."
Trujillo-Hays said that at this point, little public money is involved at Sandoval. Tuition covers
the costs for all of the children in preschool and part of the costs for the full-day kindergarten.
Next year, when the older children move up, public funds will cover all the costs of first
grade."But this is not just a school for middle-class and upper-class children who can afford to
pay," she said. Foundations and private donors have been generous. "We have more children
receiving scholarships than we have children paying tuition."And just because parents, students
and teachers are happy doesn't mean the school will be deemed a success.
The next hurdle will come when the children start to face state-mandated tests. Trujillo-Hays
said she's confident they will perform well.
For parents such as Ridgeway, though, the CSAPs are all but irrelevant.After all, Nora passed
the Mexico excitement test. And right now, that's the only one that matters.