School puts new accent on learning two languages
By Cara Solomon
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
April 1, 2003
Jennifer Morrison is determined to learn it. She has the audiotapes all lined
up. She's even found herself a study partner, another single mother like
By the time their children enter the new dual-language program at Woodin
Elementary School in Bothell this fall, the mothers will be ready to learn
Spanish alongside them.
"We're going to do it as a group thing," said Morrison, who recently enrolled
her 6-year-old son and her 4-year-old daughter in the program. "We've taken it
on as a project."
The dual-language program at Woodin, which state officials say may be the first
of its kind in the Puget Sound area, will demand a serious commitment from
parents. Students are signed on for the duration of elementary school. Academic
gains may not appear for the first few years. And then there is the possibility
that students learning two languages will not keep pace with the regular
But the rewards, said Principal Jill Crivello, will be worth the effort.
Research shows students who graduate from a dual-language program; in this case,
half are native English speakers and half are Spanish speakers; test ahead of
regular-education students. Beyond the benefit of becoming bilingual and
biliterate, learning another language is known to hone a variety of skills, from
problem solving to creative thinking.
The dual-language program differs from other immersion programs in that the goal
is to have native speakers of both languages teaching each other, with classes
roughly balanced between speakers of the two languages. The program, which
begins next year with one kindergarten and one first-grade class, already has a
waiting list of about 10 English-speaking families. Bilingual staff members at
Woodin will teach half of the K-6 curriculum in English and half in Spanish. In
the kindergarten and first grades, teachers also will set time aside to develop
students' literacy in their native language. Once the students reach second
grade, they will begin to develop literacy in the foreign language.
"I would like that everything he learns, he can learn in both languages," said
Daniel De La Cruz, a Mexican native who has enrolled
his 6-year-old son in the program. "I wouldn't want him to lose our culture, our
things that we brought from our country."
The concept of dual language is gaining momentum in Washington and across the
country, said Richard Gómez, director of migrant and bilingual education at the
state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. California and Texas in
particular have seen an increase recently in the number of dual-language
programs, he said.
Five school districts have already implemented dual-language programs in
Washington. Three others; Yakima, Walla Walla and Pasco; plan to put programs in
place next year. Seattle is also looking at the dual-language model, Gómez said.
The dual-language curriculum can serve as a kind of "community builder," Gómez
said, with children of different ethnicities working in groups, teaching each
other their native languages and bringing their cultures into the classroom.
Parents often join in, forming after-school study groups and planning social
Crivello said this kind of cultural exchange is particularly important at Woodin,
where the Spanish-speaking population has rocketed to about 30 percent in recent
years. The increase has some parents concerned that time and resources are being
taken away from their English-speaking children, Crivello said. The hope is that
the new dual-language program will shift that perception, turning
Spanish-speaking students into teachers for their English-speaking classmates
and vice versa.
"We had viewed our ESL learners as a real challenge," said Steve McKenna,
superintendent of the Manson School District, one of the first Eastern
Washington districts to implement a dual-language program. "We then started
rethinking that and realized that our 'challenge' was actually one of our
Manson's dual-language program has grown from 25 students to about 190 in three
years, with parents of all ethnicities clamoring to get their children enrolled,
But the program comes with a price tag some school districts can't afford.
Northshore school officials say it will take about $10,000 in training and new
materials to implement Woodin's program next year, but other districts say it
can take more than $100,000 to keep the program in place. Another obstacle is
the shortage of bilingual, biliterate teachers in the state.
In Bellevue, where students speak a total of about 60 different languages,
school officials say the curriculum would just not suit their
needs. There is no money in the budget to set up a dual-language program for
each of the many immigrant communities, from Cambodian to Chinese. Fred Cogswell,
executive director of academic support for the district, said he is not
convinced the program is a panacea anyway. In a dual-language classroom, he
said, there is always the risk that students will become literate in their own
language while they lag behind in English. By contrast, Bellevue's
English-as-a-second-language program consists of about one hour of focused
English instruction, while the rest of the day students are in regular
classrooms learning alongside English-speaking students.
Whenever possible, the district buys books in foreign languages and
encourages parents to read to their children in their native tongue, said
Cogswell. "We respect the culture," said Cogswell. "But our mission in Bellevue
is to teach English."
Beginning this fall, Bellevue will mandate more time in English-language
instruction, more communication between ESL teachers and
regular-education teachers, and a shift toward content-based learning of
English. School officials decided to revamp the ESL program after WASL results
showed only 4.8 percent of Bellevue's seventh-grade ESL students met the state's
goal in reading.
Beyond conversational English, students are now learning vocabulary that will
help them prepare for lessons in science and math.
Reynaldo Baca, co-director of the Center for Multilingual, Multicultural
Research at the University of Southern California, said research has shown the
dual-language model to be the most effective for ESL learners.
"The dual-language program is the only one that will accelerate the child to the
point where they can compete at grade level," said Baca. "It's the only one
that's closed the achievement gap."
Lara Williams, who will teach the kindergarten class at Woodin next year, said
some English-speaking parents are clearly concerned that their children may lose
Williams said she believes the students ultimately would come out ahead. A
recent visit to dual-language schools in Texas gave her even more confidence in
the power of the program.
"Every grade was ahead," said Williams. "Everything kindergartners were doing in
Texas, my first-graders are doing now."
Nitza Melo, a bilingual AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at Woodin Elementary, said
Spanish-speaking parents at Woodin were relieved to hear about the dual-language
program. They had serious concerns, she said, that their children would lose
hold of their native culture.
"It's a fear that's valid," said Melo. "There's a sense that students put on
themselves that to be white is to be better."
Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or