Another way to say it
Feb. 17, 2006
Dual-language classes create 'balancing act'
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
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,"
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
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