Dual-language classrooms excite Worcester parents
Apr. 12, 2014
WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The math lesson in Nicole Girouard's third-grade classroom at Chandler Magnet School was fairly typical. Nine students sat at a table with Girouard comparing fractions on their number lines; three used computer stations and five worked at another table.
Around the room, however, were hints of what makes the class special. Cognates — words that come from the same family — were listed in one spot: título and title, sedimentary rock and rocas sedimentarias.
Later, the same 17 children lined up and headed next door to Sandra Lozko's room. She met them at the door and greeted them as they crossed from English to Spanish.
"Buenos días," she said to each one, shaking his or her hand. "Como esta usted? ... Buenísimo," she coached them.
In another room, Mayra Panighel told the kindergartners in front of her on the carpet, "Essss-cuuu-chaaa" in a sing-song voice to get them to listen. She was teaching them how to roll their R's. "Like a gatito ronroneando," she said, telling them to make a sound in their throat like a cat purring. "Ru, ru, ru-ru-ru," she says. They practiced R words, counting the syllables by clapping, and talked about what R words are the same in English and Spanish, like robot. Later, Joanne Baudin would teach them a different lesson in English.
Chandler Magnet, across from Worcester State University, is one of three Worcester public elementary schools that offer dual-language classrooms. The others are Norrback Avenue and Roosevelt. While all three are magnet programs, Roosevelt tends to draw more from its neighborhood, said Bertha Elena Rojas, the school district's manager of English language learners and supplemental support services.
In past years, interest has been particularly high among families who are native English speakers. The district is trying to broaden the pool of applicants from families who speak primarily Spanish and is increasing recruitment efforts this year, Rojas said.
Students generally enter in kindergarten, and the class sizes for kindergarten are about the same size as typical kindergarten classes in the district.
Some students leave the program if they find it too demanding or if their family moves, Rojas said in an email. At Chandler Magnet, dual-language classes in Grades 1-3 are small. One day in, there were 13 children present in Elisabel Calcano's first-grade class and 10 in Jessica Farmer's second-grade class.
Roughly half the students in the dual-language programs speak Spanish at home, and roughly half speak English. Some speak neither. Arena Kreka, whose son is a second-grader at Chandler Magnet, enrolled him in the dual-language program even though the family speaks Albanian at home.
"When I told him, he was excited," she said. Students in the dual-language classes work hard, she said, but her son has never been overwhelmed. She particularly likes how the students learn synonyms and antonyms with their Spanish and English vocabulary.
"What the teachers are doing is unbelievable," she said. "I'm very happy."
Dual-language programs are believed to help Spanish-speaking students learn academic content and English at the same time, and research published in Sharing Child and Youth Development Knowledge last year showed that people are more likely to be proficient in multiple languages if they are exposed to high-quality conversation in other languages early in life.
In November, think tank MassINC released its vision for improving education in Gateway Cities like Worcester and Fitchburg, and its recommendations included the creation of dual-language immersion schools as one way to benefit from the diversity in those cities.
Parents can find out more about dual-language programs by calling principals at the three schools, the English Language Learner Welcome Center at the Parent Information Center at (508) 799-3198; Hope Oliveras, English language learners coach for dual-language programs, at (508) 799-3452; or the district's Office of English Language Learners at (508) 799-3623.
If a family wants to enroll a child in a dual-language program, the child will be screened for participation as part of the regular kindergarten screening. Students with significant speech and language developmental delays are not usually recommended for the programs, Rojas said.
The dual-language classrooms are just a small part of the overall school at each of the three buildings. State test score results for those buildings put them among the lowest 20 percent of elementary schools statewide, but Chandler Magnet in particular and Norrback to a slightly lesser extent are showing good student growth. That is, as measured by test scores, their students are making at least a year's worth of academic progress each year. State test scores, however, only start in third grade and lump the dual-language classrooms in with the rest of the building.
Chandler Magnet held an open house on Thursday at the school, 525 Chandler St. The district will have a citywide information session on dual-language programs from 5 to 6:30 p.m. May 1 in the auditorium of the Fanning Building, 24 Chatham St. Applications will be available there.
Worcester parents interested in enrolling their child in a dual-language program can complete an application at Chandler Magnet, Roosevelt or Norrback Avenue schools or at the Parent Information Center at 768 Main St.