Dual language teachers

From left, dual language program coordinator Heather Langenfeld and instructors Theresa Huntley, Vanesa Sanchez, Mayra Velazquez, Megan Schroeder, Stephanie Schmadeke and Mayra Bermudez. Photo by Dan Mundt

Denison Community School (DCS) District’s new 50/50 two-way dual language program entered its second year last week.

Students in the program spend half of their time being instructed in English and half in Spanish.

In the first year, kindergarten and first grade students took part.

Second grade classrooms were added this year. The goal of the program is to continue to add classrooms in the higher grades as the initial group of students advances.

Theresa Huntley is teaching the English half of the second grade class.

Vanesa Sanchez, who taught the Spanish half of kindergarten last year, is now the second grade Spanish teacher.

Mayra Velazquez and Megan Schroeder continue as the first grade teachers.

Stephanie Schmadeke, who was an English Language Learners (ELL) teacher, is now teaching the English side of the kindergarten classes.

Mayra Bermudez, a new hire who is a Denison High School graduate, is the new teacher for the Spanish side of kindergarten.

“We feel really good about our year last year and we learned things that we’ve tweaked and changed for this year,” said Heather Langenfeld, DCS director of elementary school improvement.

The classroom setup has been changed to facilitate more collaboration among the students.

“Last year we were learning along the way with the students and this year with one year behind us there is a lot we can take and work together as a group,” Velazquez said. “Instead of us doing a lot of the talking, we want the kids doing more talking and working with one another.”

The study units have also been rearranged to flow a bit more easily, based on the experience gained in the first year.

“To make sharing technology a little easier, subjects that use the same technology will be taught at the same time so that we don’t have to transfer computers back and forth,” Schroeder said. “Otherwise, not a lot is changing. I think we were successful last year and we plan on continuing to be successful this year.”

A Spanish camp conducted this summer was useful for the students and for the instructors.

“We integrated kindergarten and first grade kids together,” Langenfeld said. “They did units and lessons we didn’t cover last year during the school year. It was interesting to see the kids at the different grade levels and how they interacted with each other.”

“I had some Science Bound helpers and high school helpers and they were just amazed at how they could respond in Spanish without having to think about it,” Velazquez said.

The older students were able to help the younger students in the camp.

“It was nice to see them work together,” she said.

Huntley said her challenge will be working at the pace of the program, which is coordinated between the English and Spanish classes.

“I’m so used to going at my own pace within my grade level team,” she said. “The challenge for me will be to make sure we are in pace with each other.”

Sanchez said her challenge was adjusting to the second grade curriculum after teaching kindergarten last year.

One of the challenges of working with an enlarged group of teachers is making sure everyone communicates, Langenfeld said.

Developing the workflow from kindergarten through second grade is also a challenge, she said.

The dual language program has put Denison on the map and teachers at other schools know about the program, Huntley said.

“We are hugely successful in our proficiency rate for kids who speak another language,” she said. “We have the highest in the state.”

Langenfeld said one expected result of the program last year did not occur at all - and nobody was unhappy about it.

“As the year went on, we were prepared for our kids, no matter if they were Spanish speaking or English speaking, to lag behind the kids not in the program,” she said. “What we have been told from other places we’ve been to is that these kids will not be as far along as the kids in English-only.”

Parents were told to expect the students enrolled in the 50/50 program would lag behind the other students in the same grades.

“But when we look at the data between the kids in our dual language program and the kids in English-only classrooms, they haven’t fallen behind at all,” she said. “That’s really exciting for us that they are performing just as well as other students.”

Langenfeld gave credit to the teachers and noted that the abilities of the individual students in the program are also part of the equation.

Some of the parents of dual language students asked why their children weren’t falling behind as the first year went on.

“We didn’t know how to answer that question,” Velazquez said.

As the students get into fourth, fifth and six grades, they are expected to begin learning more quickly and scoring higher on tests than the English-only students, Huntley said.

A lack of teachers is an obstacle to expanding the program to more sections within the first three grades, Langenfeld said.

The school has been encouraging high school students interested in elementary education to consider getting ESL endorsements and Spanish certifications.

“We’re working with kids on the front end of college or even before they go to college so they are very clear about what certifications they need to be in a program like this,” she said. “Finding teachers is what has limited us from expanding the program any further than we have right now.”

Velazquez said the teachers and staff in the 20th Street School building provide a good support system for the students.

She said the social problems in the country don’t show up in the school.

“This is a very safe place for them because they know how diverse and friendly we are,” Huntley said.

“I think we’re all the same here,” Velazquez said. “We’re Monarchs.”

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