Andrew Withers: Dual Immersion Program successes at Grass Valley School District
In 2011 the Grass Valley School District launched Nevada County’s first dual immersion Spanish instructional program. Since that time, we have expanded our program annually by one grade level each school year. The Kindergarten through 4th grade program begins at Bell Hill Academy Elementary School and it continues in 5th through 8th grades at Lyman Gilmore Middle School. Our dual immersion program provides students with their classroom instructional experiences through English and Spanish. Students help each other speak, read, write and understand one another’s language. Classes are composed of a balance of English speakers and Spanish speakers. All academic content is taught primarily in Spanish in Kindergarten and first grade and there is a gradual increase in English instruction until a 50:50 balance is reached in fifth grade. Spanish speakers build a strong base in Spanish and are more successful as they learn English. English speakers have maximum exposure to Spanish. Participating students and families love the program and are thrilled to have the opportunity for their children to develop bilingual and biliteracy skills as well as to be more aware of their own culture as well as the culture of others.
“The coordination from every teacher kindergarten through 8th grade has made it such a cohesive program that it continues to build on itself,” said Karla Aaron, the parent of a student in the Dual Immersion program. “For my children, the depth of education they have received has been an absolute gift.”
The inaugural class of students are now in 8th grade and they will be graduating from Lyman Gilmore Middle School in June. This group of students is extremely special and dedicated! They were the first to make a nine-year program commitment as we built and refined our program framework while we served them. Recently these students took their 8th grade Constitutional Tests in Spanish and 85% of them passed it on the first attempt! We are very proud of their accomplishment as well as the overall results which were higher than their English-only peers. The Grass Valley School District is extremely impressed with our Dual Immersion students and staff and their growth and perseverance throughout the past nine years.
A hidden gem from this program has been the opportunity to recruit and hire some amazing bilingual educators. As everyone knows, a school district’s success is directly related to the talent and skills of it’s staff. Our Dual Immersion staff is terrific and has added a wonderful depth to our school district team.
“Our dual immersion teachers must meet additional requirements above and beyond their teaching credential,” said Heather Graham, principal at Bell Hill Academy and director of the Grass Valley School District Dual Immersion Program. “They need to demonstrate a high level of proficiency in both English and Spanish as well as have a strong understanding of second language acquisition methods and the variety of cultures in the Spanish-speaking world.”
We are especially proud of one of our middle school dual immersion teachers, Jakyline Gonzales, who recently passed her U.S. citizenship test. Ironically, she took her test just one day after her students took the 8th grade Constitution test! The care and dedication of our talented dual immersion teachers is the main reason our program has met with such wonderful results.
Andrew Withers is superintendent of the Grass Valley School District.
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