Horizon School Dual Language Immersion Program students smiled and talked with friends as they got off the bus for their field trip at Ajo Al’s Mexican Café in Glendale where they put their Spanish language skills to use ordering their meals and interviewing the restaurant owner and manager.
Glendale Elementary School District Dual Language Immersion Program students at William C. Jack School and Horizon School focus on biliteracy, bilingualism and biculturalism, and students develop high levels of proficiency in a second language, gain awareness and appreciation for diverse cultures, and acquire multitasking abilities and problem-solving skills while meeting grade-level academic standards, said Adriana Parsons, director of communications for the district.
AZEdNews Video: Horizon School Dual Language Immersion Students Field Trip
“Our Dual Language Immersion Program started four years ago. We started with kindergarten, and we’ve added one grade each year. This year it’s up to third grade,” said Alex Garcia, language acquisition director for Glendale Elementary School District.
Preparing for the field trip
First- through third-grade dual language immersion students used several academic skills to prepare for the field trip and at the restaurant, Garcia said.
“Students in class will practice reading the menu in both English and Spanish, and they’ll do some comprehension of text features of nonfiction text,” Garcia said.
The students also practiced ordering their meal in Spanish, said Ysaura Cardenas, who teaches second grade Spanish at Horizon School.
“We’re visiting this beautiful Mexican restaurant for a wonderful opportunity for our dual language kids to have the experience of Mexican food and they so far are loving it,” Cardenas said.
“Today they will order in Spanish both their food and their drinks and that’s part of how they learn another language in this case Spanish,” Cardenas said.
“Our younger kids are used to their parents ordering for them, but at the restaurant they’ll actually order directly themselves,” Garcia said.
Students also prepared for the field trip by doing math activities in class including using money, and voting on “what their meal is going to be and doing some graphing and data analysis,” Garcia said.
“Lastly, the teachers helped prepare students to ask questions and interview the owner and restaurant manager in both English and Spanish,” said Garcia, noting that asking questions and interviewing are among state standards for dual-language students.
A first school field trip for many students
For many students, this was their first school field trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Parsons said.
Several students said they liked riding the bus on the field trip.
One student said he liked the salsa, “it’s hot and it spicy.”
Another student said the field trip was fun, because “we like adventuring.”
“It looks so cool this place, and the food is really good,” said another student.
Marisela Barrera, who teaches first grade in the dual language program, answered students’ many questions and kept students focused.
When the mariachi band played, the students clapped, then danced in the aisles, and sang along to “De Colores.”
“It was the idea of our superintendent to use some of our Title I funding to provide specialty field trips that are unique to students in this program,” Garcia said. “The mission of both schools is for students to become biliterate, bicultural citizens, and so part of this field trip idea is to really immerse them in the different Latino cultures.”
On-campus learning activity for younger students
While this field trip was for older students in the dual language immersion program, Garcia said she’s looking into providing kindergarteners in the program with an on-campus activity, possibly with Zarco Guerrero, a sculptor, mask maker and performance artist who works in Mesa.
“I’m trying to do something for them too, because we want all our kids to benefit from this, but it will probably be something on-site rather than taking them somewhere,” Garcia said.
What a dual-language immersion program is like
The dual language immersion students spend half the day learning in English and the other half learning in Spanish in the state-approved model for the program, Garcia said.
“They’ll start in either English or Spanish with one teacher, then go to their specials and their lunch and then either after or before lunch just depending on the times, they’ll switch to the other teacher and do the other language,” Garcia said.
“What’s nice is both of our schools do what’s called a roller-coaster schedule, because as you know, some kids just learn better in the morning or some kids are just better in the afternoon, so that it balances out,” Garcia said.
The roller-coaster schedule means a William C. Jack School student might start Monday morning learning in English then learn in Spanish that afternoon, but Tuesday they’ll start off learning in Spanish and then learn in English in the afternoon, Garcia said.
“Horizon School does the same thing, but they do it by weeks,” Garcia said. “Both schools know the importance of time of day for kids, especially the younger ones.”
Glendale Elementary School District dual-language immersion students learn reading and writing in both English and Spanish, Garcia said.
“The teachers do a really good job of having a vocabulary wall and doing that transfer of language for them to help them see the connection between English and Spanish,” Garcia said.
“That really helps our English Language Learners pick up the English faster because we’re honoring their heritage language and then they’re able to use that to understand English better, and vice versa,” Garcia said.
“In kindergarten through second grade, the majority of math minutes are taught in Spanish, but the English teacher still does what we call language bridging, which means they give them the vocabulary and do a math talk or something with the kids in English. They get a little of English math and a majority of Spanish,” Garcia said.
Because third graders do state testing in math and English language arts, third grade math is taught “mostly in the English classroom and bridged in the Spanish classroom,” Garcia said.
In addition, both the English and Spanish teachers integrate their social studies and science into their reading and writing,” Garcia said.
Teacher training and collaboration
The teachers in the dual language program receive yearly specific professional development and attend a language conference in New Mexico each year. In addition, they do a lot of collaborative planning.
“They also have matched planning times with their partner teacher, and then they also have quarterly collaborative teams with both dual language schools coming together and planning together,” Garcia said.
Spanish as a second language class for parents
Glendale Elementary School District also offers free, in-person and virtual Spanish as a second language classes for parents who don’t speak Spanish, but “want to help their kids at home practice their Spanish, letters and sight words” and 26 parents are currently taking part, Garcia said.
Parents receive bilingual books and learning materials, and “they’re learning Spanish alongside their child to read to them and practice with them at home,” Garcia said.
“That’s a unique feature that our program offers that I don’t think that a lot of other districts that have,” Garcia said.
How knowing two languages helps students
Garcia said she can see that English Language Learners who “would normally be in an English Language Development classroom and are able to participate in dual language with the approved model by the state are learning and progressing in English much more quickly than students that I see in an ELD room where all the instructors are teaching in English.”
Garcia said she’s excited to see how students will benefit from the program in the long-term.
Research has shown that in a person who speaks only one language that “there will always be a part that never turns on in your brain,” Garcia said.
In “a person who speaks two languages there’s a section in your brain that turns on” that “reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia and also increases problem solving and multi-tasking skills,” Garcia said.
“In the long run, the hope is that these kids will become better multi-taskers, better problem solvers, because they’re switching back and forth and giving their brain that exercise,” Garcia said.
It will also benefit students once they get into the workforce to be sensitive to other cultures and inclusive, Garcia said.
In the future, Garcia said she’d like to focus students’ field trips on “immersing them in the culture, not just the language.”
In the Fall, Garcia said she would like to take students on a field trip focused on either Hispanic Heritage Month or Dia de los Muertos, because “that’s a huge celebration in the Latino culture.”
“Every year, of course, we want to make our program bigger and better,” Garcia said.