Another way to say it
Arizona Republic
Feb. 17, 2006

Dual-language classes create 'balancing act'

Georgann Yara

Fifth-grader Zack Roe is the only member of his family who speaks Spanish. Classmate Beatriz Villa is the only one in her family who speaks English.

Their stories are common for many students in Holdeman Elementary School's dual-language program, which offers native English and Spanish speakers academic courses in both languages, building fluency and literacy in the state's most widely used tongues.

In kindergarten and first grade, Spanish is one component of their day.
Students who show proficiency may go on to the full dual-language program, where all lessons in Grades 2 through 5, except for language arts and math, are offered in English and Spanish.

Success of the partnership between the languages relies on more than memorization of words or recitation of the alphabet. Lessons emphasize language use through content, building true comprehension and fluency. While bilingual teachers lead classes, students help each other.

"Sometimes she helps me with Spanish and words I don't understand," said Roe, 11, nodding toward Villa. "It's good to learn two languages. It's helpful to know how to speak both of them."

Villa said the feeling is mutual.

"They help with complicated words," she said of her native English-speaking peers.

Teacher Isabel Doyle said 15 of her 20 fifth-grade dual-language students are native Spanish speakers. Herself a product of a bilingual household, Doyle can vouch for the methods used in Holdeman's program.

"There is a lot of cooperative learning, so they learn from their peers,"
Doyle said.

Holdeman introduced the program in 1998, but it was adjusted to conform to a law Arizona voters passed in 2000 banning bilingual education.

Principal Rick Horvath said the key is walking a tightrope between what parents want and what the law demands, all while trying to keep students'
best interests at the forefront.

"It's all about the kids. Whatever happens, the kids are the most important," he said.

Holdeman hosts the only elementary school dual-language program in the Tempe Elementary School District. There is a similar one at Gilliand Junior High, which Holdeman students feed into.

A committee gives ongoing evaluations of the Holdeman program and can suggest changes. And Horvath said dual-language program parents are very supportive and among the more active participants on his campus.

Typically, Horvath said parent concerns involve the quantity of either
language: There is too much Spanish or not enough Spanish, too much English or not enough of it. These complaints are expressed equally by both native Spanish and English speakers.

"It's a balancing act somewhere in the middle," he said.

Horvath said the program is backed by national research that shows grades and test scores are better overall from students enrolled in a dual-language program. About 10 percent of his student body lives outside of Holdeman's boundaries and comes specifically for the program.

Laveen resident Carla Proby takes her daughter, Daijah, to school at Holdeman on her way to work at Arizona State University. Daijah has been in the program since kindergarten and her mother says she now speaks Spanish "pretty fluently." Proby credits her daughter's success in math to the curriculum, because that class seems easy compared with the ones conducted in Spanish. She plans to enroll her younger child at Holdeman because of the dual-language program.

"At first I was skeptical, but then I saw the results and I'm convinced,"
Proby said. "It does nothing but help your child. I highly recommend it."

First grade dual-language teacher Joanna Aguilar has noticed another positive impact on her students, one that cannot be measured by percentages or numbers.

"It builds confidence to be able to speak another language," said Aguilar, who has seen shy students blossom, regardless of their first language.
"Their language is being accepted and others are speaking it. They feel better about themselves."