Over the course of the past few years Collegeville Elementary has witnessed numerous changes and improvements designed and intended to foster the development and growth of its Dual Language Immersion program. Two years ago a new building was installed on campus providing us with three additional classrooms for daily use. These classrooms currently house one kindergarten and two first grade classes. Drivers who commute between Escalon and Stockton along Mariposa Road should have noticed the construction taking place between the beginning of June and August. Parking lots may not be the most interesting or exciting topic to discuss, but the development of a new parking and loading/unloading area on campus represents a big deal for the families we serve. In the past parents attending events on campus had to park along the street or across the street. Thankfully, they no longer have to do so as we now have sufficient parking to meet our current and future needs.
More than four years ago the Escalon Unified School District initiated a plan to transform Collegeville into a Dual Language Immersion or DLI school. The purpose and intention of DLI schools is twofold; to improve literacy and general academic performance of students who speak a language other than English, and secondly, to provide English speaking students with an opportunity to become bilingual and biliterate. DLI schools have been in existence across the United States for more than 40 years. Numerous studies have been conducted on such schools and their students, the conclusions of which have repeatedly shown that students who come from non-English speaking households show greater academic achievement than their counterparts who participate in English only programs.
Here in San Joaquin County this means that we can provide students who come from Spanish speaking households with a K-5 education in their primary language while gradually introducing them to English as they move from one grade to the next. For students who come from English speaking households whose parents opt to have them participate in our program it means immersing kids in a Spanish language environment from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. with the long-term intention of teaching them how to understand, speak, read and write in Spanish. The long-term benefits of being bilingual are numerous, not the least of which include greater professional opportunities upon reaching adulthood.
Our current third grade class started this program four years ago as kindergarten students. While it may not be unexpected to see and hear children from Spanish speaking homes practice their Spanish at school, it is an impressive sight to see and hear our third grade students who come from English speaking households communicate with their peers and teachers in their second language.
The DLI program at Collegeville also requires a great deal of flexibility and skill on the part of staff who are expected to juggle English and Spanish curriculum to varying degrees. Our DLI program is based on a 90/10 model of target language exposure, meaning that students begin in kindergarten and first grade learning with and listening to their teacher conduct routine classroom activities 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English. Upon beginning second grade, students spend 80 percent of their daily instruction learning in Spanish while the English component is increased to 20 percent. The ratios continue shifting with every passing year until a 50/50 split is reached in the fifth grade. Collegeville isn’t quite there yet, as our current third grade class is now receiving instruction 70 percent of the day in Spanish and 30 percent in English, but they’ll be there very soon!
Although great strides have been made in the development of the DLI program at Collegeville in terms of locating and adding staff who hold the necessary certificates and qualifications to teach in a bilingual setting, adoption of appropriate Spanish language curriculum and learning resources, as well as the planning and development of new and improved facilities, we aren’t done yet. In order to continue forging our own unique path forward, additional changes will still be needed to make the long-term vision come further into focus.
If all goes according to plan, when those aforementioned third grade students complete their fifth grade year, they will be the only fifth grade students in Escalon Unified not to attend El Portal Middle School. Instead, they will remain at Collegeville as its first sixth grade class where they will continue to split their time evenly between English and Spanish instruction. They will remain Collegeville Cubs until they complete their eighth grade year, at which time they will join their peers from El Portal at Escalon High School as freshman students. After nine years of bilingual instruction these students will be able to speak, read and write in either language. They will be an impressive group.
If this vision is to become a reality Collegeville will continue to grow and change in the years ahead. The addition of a new classroom building and new parking lot represent only the first phases of transformative change. To accommodate students in a K-8 setting will require additional buildings, additional highly qualified staff and careful planning to ensure that our instructional program serves all of our students to develop their talents and gifts to the greatest extent possible.
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.