DENISON LAUNCHES DUAL LANGUAGE PROGRAM WITH STRONG SUPPORT
The Denison school district serves a diverse population of students—60.6 percent Latino, 30.8 percent Caucasian, 5.2 percent African American, 2.8 percent Asian and 1.01 Other. There are 23 languages spoken in the district. Several years ago, the Denison school board set a goal to increase opportunities for young students to have access to more than one language.
"The dual language program is important for our school and community. It is critical we provide both English speakers and Spanish speakers with a strong beginning in their native language, while at the same time introducing and developing a second language,” said Board President Kris Rowedder.
A task force was created to lead the charge and began researching options. Initially they looked at offering exploratory Spanish classes in elementary or middle school. But, they heard feedback from parents that they wanted their children to be bilingual or biliterate.
“Research shows that Spanish as an exploratory exposes kids to Spanish, but they don’t get the biliteracy and bilinguism we were looking for,” said Dual Language Coordinator Heather Langenfeld.
You may be wondering, what’s the difference between biliteracy and bilingual? A student who is bilingual can fluently speak two languages, while a student who is biliterate can fluently read, write and speak two languages.
Research and Program Visits Leads to Successful Launch
So, the focus turned to researching and visiting dual language programs across Iowa and the nation. Iowa visits included Sioux City, Marshalltown and West Liberty. The task force eventually recommended a two-way 50/50 dual language program and the board voted in support of that direction.
"In the past, I have had many parents ask that we look into beginning such a program. Many of these were parents of English as a first language students that were eager for their children to begin to learn Spanish at an elementary age and reap the benefits such a program could provide their children,” said Rowedder.
In the fall of 2018, the program was rolled out to 48 kindergarten students and 48 first grade students. Next year, students in second grade will have access to it and the program will continue evolving all the way through high school. The end goal is for all K-12 students in Denison to have an opportunity to learn in both Spanish and English.
The district chose the 50/50 program model because they did not want to exclude English speaking students from the opportunity—they wanted all students to be able to participate in the program, both English and Spanish speaking students.
"Students who have a skill set in multiple languages are in high demand in the workforce. This unique skill set gives them advantages in seeking employment and/or job advancement," said Superintendent Mike Pardun.
Board and Community Support Crucial Pieces of the Puzzle
Board members are especially supportive of the program, because they know the importance of ensuring students are prepared for their future, in an increasingly diverse world.
“The board prioritizes finding and offering the best opportunities possible for all students—dual language programming, STEM initiatives, etc. They set the tone and direction for school administration to pave the way, so teachers and support staff feel empowered to be creative, collaborative and show initiative to dream, design and implement the best programs and experiences for all students,” said Pardun.
Parents, students and community members are excited about this program and the direction the district is moving. With a large ELL and Hispanic population, it’s important to all stakeholders that the community embraces these cultures.
“It’s truly eye-opening for kids to see what a big world we have, and the opportunities they have to learn about other people and other cultures. It really helps to build an appreciation for each other,” said Langenfeld.
Focus Turns to Moving the Program Forward
The district is turning the focus from the initial program launch phase of programming, scheduling and curriculum to the next phase, instructional strategies and best practices. Soon, they will begin the evaluation process to ensure students are fully benefitting from the program.
Denison has similar challenges to West Liberty—finding bilingual teachers in Iowa. Like West Liberty, they’ve had luck recruiting Denison graduates to return and teach. They have also completed all the necessary paperwork to partner with Spain, if the need arises.
"We are a nation that is everchanging and our young learners are the stepping stone to building progressive and compassionate students—our future citizens," said Rowedder.
Meet the Denison School Board