The Dual Language Imperative

By Juan Cabrera

Beyond the notable benefits, such as brain development, increased cognition and higher academic performance — being bilingual has enhanced my life and relationships.

In EPISD, we believe being bilingual will help our students find future employment in an increasingly global economy, but we also believe it will help them be better people now and in relationships (be they work or just as a member of society).

Four years ago EPISD had a traditional exit program (i.e., exit to English only) and have since shifted to primarily two-way dual language instructional models. While the goal of a transitional program is to create a bridge to eventually move students from their native language to English, the dual language model seeks to maintain academic and linguistic fluency in two or more languages.

Dual language programs will not only improve academic outcomes for both ELLs and monolingual English speakers in a two-way model, but multilingualism is an economic driver and important shift that all districts should consider.

Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough highly qualified dual language teachers. So what are we doing about it? We are directly working to create a dual language teacher pipeline.

Dual Language Teacher Pipeline

University partnerships and collaboration. “Dual language is definitely World Class Education,” said Dr. Elena Izquierdo, the UTEP prof who was the inspiration for the EPISD program. “It opens minds to new ways of thinking. With changing demographics, dual language provides bilingualism/biliteracy/multiculturalism and an advantageous role in the global economy,”

She added, “Genuine leadership inspires a profound understanding of diversity as children, teachers, parents and the wider education community learn, work, and play together. It embraces the value of knowing more than one language and expects nothing less than a rigorous curriculum delivered and learned through two languages.”

Fifth grade Mesita teacher Mayra Perez said, “I always try to emphasize to all my parents the benefits that their bilingual and bi-literate child will have…I think that for some reason the United States has always had a very closed-minded view on bilingualism. We always expect everyone to speak English, but we can’t be bothered to learn some else’s language.

Model school and UTEP partnership. The teacher education partnership goes beyond just learning from each other, we work with UTEP directly in EPISD schools. Mesita Elementary is a dual language P-5 program on two campuses. It is the successful combination of a high performing dual language elementary with a struggling school with dwindling enrollment.

The Connecting Worlds/Mundos Unidos curriculum is delivered through the integration of dual language immersion methodology and gifted and talented instructional strategies. The program uses a 50/50 design in which students receive half of their instruction in Spanish and half in English across all subject areas. Instruction in both languages is delivered by the same classroom teacher. Noted UTEP linguist Dr. Elena Izquierdo inspired the Connecting Worlds approach.

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The Vilas campus (above) serves as an Early Childhood Development Center (serving grades P-1) and shares instructional strategies and the unique Mesita culture where teachers collaborate and compete to improve.

Laila Ferris has been principal at Mesita for 20 years. “We believe it’s the only program that should be implemented to support EL,” said Ferris. “Why not allow for growth of two languages instead of English only? We use the gift of the first language and help them grow into a second language.”

Sustained professional development and support.“Multilingualism should be seen as an asset the way is seen internationally – and we need that mindset in the U.S. if we are going to stay globally competitive.” It is an economic imperative that bilingual education is a part of current and future students education.  It also is essential that teachers are receiving the proper support and training to facilitate these classrooms. We are working to strengthen the dual language teacher pipeline, but also to support the existing dual language teachers to be the best they can be.

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Juan with Dori Fenenbock, President of the El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees. 

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We continue to be optimistic that dual language programs will become the norm and will do all we can in EPISD to highlight and share how these programs have benefited our students and community.

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