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U46 parents learn about dual-language program

Carina Thomas of Bartlett says her son’s involvement in School District U46’s dual-language program is energizing him and she can really see the difference

“He enjoyed school always, but he comes home excited to say the new things he learned, whereas before when he was in regular kindergarten the first three or four weeks, he goes ‘oh, I played with Johnny today. Oh, I really enjoyed this.’” she said. “He liked it, but it was more of social thing. He wasn’t being challenged.”

Thomas, who only speaks English, says her son now regularly throws Spanish phrases at her.

“He gets a kick out of knowing something I don’t know and then telling me what he learned today,” she said.

The U46 English language learners department recently hosted a Dual Language Academy for parents of preschoolers to seventh graders at Elgin High School with the intent of helping them to better prepare students for bilingualism and biliteracy, as well as celebrate the district’s multiculturalism.

The keynote speaker was Kim Potowski, an author and professor of Hispanic linguistics at University of Illinois at Chicago, and parents could attend breakout sessions on topics ranging from strategies used in dual-language classrooms to transitioning into the middle school dual-language program.

Dr. Annette Acevedo, director of English language learners program, said it’s important for the community to know what programs and services are made available through the ELL department.

“We don’t have the (ELL) model that we used to have,” she said. “The goal of this program is bilingualism, biliteracy and developing really positive cross-cultural attitudes. We’re excited about that. It’s a different program.”

The dual-language program first started during the 2011-12 academic year, with the biggest difference from former program being the classroom structure. One-way classrooms are for Spanish-home-speaking students looking to build proficiency in both English and their native language, and two-way classrooms, where students who speak either Spanish or English combine for class.

Sometimes learning two languages at the same time can be a challenge for children, but Potowski said the benefits often outweigh the negatives.

“(It’s important to) show parents the great value of bilingualism, show them that they are making a leap of faith, but that all the data from around the nation—including Chicago, Houston, L.A., different places—show that, No. 1, that kids’ English doesn’t suffer,” she said. “In fact, it’s often better when they’re educated in two languages.”

And secondly, she said, those speaking Spanish at home improve their skills in their native language.

Potowski urges parents of dual-language students to look at the big picture.

“If they’re learning through two languages, it can look like if you measure one of those languages and compare it to a monolingual child the same age, it can look like the child learning two languages is a little bit lower in their vocabulary,” she said. “But that’s because they’ve got two languages going on… Because when they get older, you’re going to see that they’re going to reach and exceed what the monolingual children can do.”

Thomas already sees her son progressing.

“He wasn’t going to learn anything new in kindergarten,” she said. “He can already read a little bit, add and subtract, he knows his numbers, knows his letters, knows this and knows that. I wanted him to be challenged, to like school and learn something new. I knew that if he went to dual language he’d be learning something totally new.”

Carina’s husband, Rodney Thomas, realizes that he and his wife may face challenges in helping their son if he begins to struggle with homework.

“At some point, we’re not going to be able to keep up,” he said, which wasn’t a problem with their first child.

By attending some of the breakout sessions, Carina Thomas said, she learned some ways to help.

“It seems like they have resources for that, but we’ll just have to wait to cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said.

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