More elementary schools teaching Spanish in dual language programs

As local Hispanic population grows, schools teach Spanish to young students

AUSTIN -- Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and the fastest-growing population is Hispanics, who make up 47 percent of the city's population. So, some schools are taking a proactive approach to teaching students with that in mind.

Reed Elementary School is the first Leander ISD school to teach a dual language program, instructing children in Spanish three days a week and in English two days a week.

"Fifty percent of our students are native Spanish speakers and 50 percent are native English speakers, and then the goal is bilingualism and literacy by the end of the program in fifth grade," said Tina Dozier, director of the English Language Learner program at LISD. "We're one semester into it, and the growth we've seen with the kids has been pretty phenomenal."

Dozier said they have received many calls about parents interested in the program for next year.m.

"I think it's amazing. We're very excited," said Stacia Vance, a parent with two children at Reed, her youngest in the dual language program.

Vance admitted they had reservations. Her son initially thought he was in the wrong class because everyone spoke Spanish. However, after one semester, "He totally gets it," she said.

"Every once in a while he'll speak Spanish. the other day I asked him how his day was and he said, 'Oh, Mom, it was great. The strawberries were muy grande,'" Vance said.

Miles down the street, even younger children are being exposed to Spanish at a free weekly Spanish camp held at the Westbank Library.

"Research shows that even after the first year of life, the brain stops recognizing certain sounds," said Ann Benson, who has been teaching Spanish for 14 years at the library and for nearly two years at the camp. "Children learn through having fun. They learn language like they learn everything else: Fun activities."

Kristi Floyd started the Westbank Library program two years ago with a Spanish story time and two volunteers. There was so much interest they brought in Benson, who now runs the free Spanish camp once a week.

"I've been thrilled with the turnout and the enthusiasm for everyone who comes," said Floyd. "I think they're just surprised that we do it, and for me, it's just something I can't imagine not doing."

Liz Sawyers-Robles and Maureen Turner Carey have been bringing their children to the West Bank library for a year and a half.

"She will correct me. I was singing a Spanish song earlier and she was like, 'Mom, you're not saying "escalatos" correctly,'" said Robles.

Parents learn alongside their children at the camp.

"We have so much fun," said Carey. "We sing songs. We read books in Spanish and before we didn't speak Spanish at all."

Studies show people who are multilingual are more creative thinkers, have more opportunities later in life and even show less risk for developing dementia later in life. Research also shows that the younger children are able to pick up language skills more quickly.

Other schools in the area primarily use the Gomez and Gomez Dual Language Enrichment model. Austin ISD has 16 elementary schools with dual language programs, Round Rock ISD has 12, Pflugerville ISD has three, Hays CISD has two, Hutto ISD has two and Leander ISD launched its first at Reed Elementary this year.

To learn more about the Laura Bush Westbank Library program go here.

To learn more about Ann Benson's Somos Amigos programs go here.


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