Herrera dual-language program a national model
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 23, 2007


Time split between Spanish and English

Karina Bland

The children in Jessica Fermas-Williams' class at Herrera School in Phoenix split into pairs to write a paragraph about why it is important to protect the rain forests, a typical task for third-graders.

But these children are writing in Spanish. They are in the dual-language program, meaning they get half of their instruction in English and half in Spanish. This week, it's Spanish.

Eight-year-old Destini Villegas sits on the carpet with her friend, 9-year-old Angelica Clemente. Both girls have been in the dual-language program since kindergarten. Angelica has been speaking Spanish since she was a baby. She says, "It's easier for me because when I say it in English, I get confused."

Although both of Destini's parents speak Spanish, she has grown up speaking English.

"I'm going to write that the main idea is to stop them from cutting down the trees," Destini says, her legs crossed and her notebook balanced on one knee. She writes carefully, Estas son razones para salvar los arboles en el bosque tropical.

"I don't know if you're spelling that right," Angelica says, pointing at the word "tropical" with the point of her pencil. "Oh, yes, you are."

A year ago, members of the National Association for Bilingual Education toured Herrera, near 11th Street and Buckeye Road, curious to see how a program that teaches students in English and Spanish thrives in a state that bans bilingual education.

Under state law, schools can offer dual-language classes and many do but only if students are proficient in English. The Herrera program is held up as a national model.

Of the school's 780 students, about 200 children are in the dual-language program. The school also is a magnet program for the arts.