STEADY PROGRESS AT STORM
San Antonio Express-News (TX)
February 22, 2007
Bridging the language gap
Gilbert Vasquez, a high school teacher, grew up
on San Antonio's West Side speaking both Spanish and English, and when his son
was ready to enroll in kindergarten, he sought a school that viewed the Spanish
language as an asset rather than a weight to be shed.
His son Joseph now attends
a small West Side school that has engineered a remarkable turnaround since it
posted abysmal test scores a decade ago. The school has emerged as an innovator,
beginning with the dual-language Spanish-English program that Vasquez takes the
second-grader to every day.
In addition to Joseph learning academic Spanish, Vasquez said, "we wanted him to
celebrate his heritage and culture."
The improvement of this elementary school, which became an open enrollment
charter school within the San Antonio Independent School District last summer,
has drawn the attention of researchers as well as visitors from as far away as
Africa. Many attribute the school's
on test scores to a shift in attitude on the part of teachers and school
leaders, who went from focusing on poverty and lack of English skills to drawing
on their children's bilingualism as a strength.
"Many times they (educators) look at
what the children don't have," said Mari Cortez, a professor of early childhood
University of Texas at
San Antonio, "rather than looking at
the richness of their culture and what they bring to school."
Area Associate Superintendent Elizabeth Melson praises
achievement in spite of being "one of my most
schools in terms of their student population," and credits the teachers' ability
to come together, collaborate and agree on an approach.
a time when President Bush has called for closing the educational gap between
Anglo, black and Hispanic students as well as poor and affluent students, the
improvement of this school in one of San Antonio's most impoverished
neighborhoods, adjacent to a housing project, is noteworthy.
One-third of the school's children come from homes that speak limited English;
99.8 percent qualify for free lunches; 97.9 percent are Hispanic.
Throughout the 1990s, Storm
couldn't seem to shake a history of low test scores, particularly for its
students who spoke little English. In the 1996-97 school year, it earned the
state's lowest rank of "low performing," -- and not for the first time.
Just 22 percent of its third-graders passed the Texas Assessment of Academic
Skills in reading and 24 percent passed math; 36 percent of fourth-graders
passed reading and 39 percent passed math. The scores for Spanish speakers were
Unlike bilingual education, which is designed to support children with Spanish
while teaching them English, dual-language programs teach children content in
both languages. The program uses Spanish more heavily in the beginning, with the
goal to make students fluent in both languages.
About one-third of the participants speak English, so for those students the
program operates as Spanish immersion. Another third speak Spanish and learn to
read and do math in their native language while slowly adding English. Ideally,
another third are bilingual students who foster student interaction in both
Despite its proven success, dual language remains controversial among those who
believe public schools should, above all, promote English fluency.
Dual language is just one of the programs
Storm has pioneered over the past
decade. In 1999, Storm
was the first school in the inner city district to offer a full-day preschool
program, which now serves the majority of the neighborhood 3-year-olds. And last
year, teachers introduced the college-prep methods of AVID (Advancement Via
Individual Determination), invented as a high school program to help students
reach for college.
It also has a strong partnership with the University of Texas
Antonio, which, among other benefits, has helped it attract top-notch
dual-language teachers, Storm
Principal Angela Dominguez said.
About half the school's children are enrolled in the dual-language program, and
the remainder study in a traditional English-language model, Dominguez said.
Rise in test scores
Test scores for Storm's
students have climbed steadily since the school adopted dual language a decade
ago. That first year, 1997-98, it moved up one ranking to "academically
acceptable," and later earned the higher rating of "recognized" for three years
based on TAAS scores.
Its ranking fell back to "academically acceptable" in 2003-04 under a new
ranking system using the more difficult Texas Assessment of Knowledge and
Skills, and it remained there for the past two years.
Last year's fourth grade was a bright spot, with 84 percent passing TAKS
reading, 79 percent passing math and 99 percent passing writing.
While student performance has improved across the board, dual-language students
outscore their peers, Dominguez said.
The school became a charter school within SAISD this summer, which should keep
any pressure from the district to test its children in English in the fourth
bay. School leaders predict that testing students in Spanish in fourth grade and
English in fifth -- in keeping with the dual-language model -- will further
The charter also allows the school to open its doors to anyone who may want to
enroll a child, allowing parents such as Vasquez, who lives near Maverick
Elementary School in SAISD, to bring his second-grader to study
This year, the school's size grew from 480 students to 523 because of that
transfer policy, Dominguez said.
Andrea Greimel, the school's lead bilingual teacher, predicts those numbers will
grow as parents become aware of the benefits from bilingualism that go beyond
Anecdotally, and based on her own daughter's experience in another dual-language
program, Greimel says bilingual children become stronger readers than
"They become really in tune to language," Greimel said. "They have the
self-esteem that I believe is at
the heart of high achievement. They feel they have in their possession an
academic and social strength that is sought after by many people."
Fourth-grader Briana Vidal, 10, says she ended up in the dual-language program
because the teachers "told my parents that I was real bright."
She gets to use her English at
home with her parents, Vidal said, but her grandmother only speaks Spanish.
Though in the beginning she struggled because she understood little Spanish, she
persevered and caught on, she said.
As an added benefit, she said: "I've heard you can get very good jobs if you
speak two languages."
--Has pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
--Has 523 students.
--Has a new charter status that allows the school to accept students from
outside neighborhood boundaries.
--About half the school's students are in a dual-language, Spanish-English
program that emphasizes Spanish in the early years and eventually teaches
children to be fluent in both languages. The school also is piloting AVID
(Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program historically used in high
schools to promote college, at
the elementary school level.
1. Daniel Cleto, 5 (left), uses a pointer in teacher Theresa Mayfield's
dual-language pre-kindergarten class at
2. A sentence written by 5-year-old Storm
student Gerardo Aguilar states, in Spanish, 'I love my dog because he follows
me.' The charter school stresses drawing on the student's bilingualism as a
strength. PHOTOS BY JOHN DAVENPORT/STAFF
Copyright (c), 2007, San Antonio Express-News.
All Rights Reserved.
Author: Jeanne Russell
Section: A Section
Copyright (c), 2007, San Antonio Express-News. All