This month, we are featuring the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in Pharr, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. In 1994-1995, the district decided to try something different than early exit because their english learners, were not performing well in the State assessments, this applied to all levels-elementary, middle school and high school.
To combat this problem, the district applied for a Title VII Comprehensive Dual Language grant that would allow them to pilot the dual program in a handful of schools. The campus principals volunteered for the pilot. They had researched the effectiveness of the dual language program and this type of program was the one that was closing the achievement gap for bilingual students. They provided a full year of preparation before the implementation with those pilot schools. The schools who were participating received extensive support from the Dual Language Department. The campuses received support through staff development for teachers, administrators and parents.
One of the things that separates this district from other dual language programs is that they are the only district that is implementing a district-wide dual language program, PK3 to 12th grade. They have over 15,000 students participating in the program in a school district of over 32,000 students. This year, from their sophomore class down, their cohorts are over 1,000 students. They are truly exemplary in producing bilingual, biliterate and bicultural students.
The planning process helped in different respects. One was that all stakeholders (principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents) knew what was expected of them as a commitment was made for their participation in the grant. Another way was the preparation for the teachers who were going to implement the program. They went through extensive professional development on the “Why” and the “How” of the program model design. The teachers were also provided with staff development in Spanish to help get them ready for language of instruction. Campus administration also had a focus on who they hired. Hiring bilingual, biliterate personnel was a crucial aspect of ensuring this program was successful. Finally, the planning process helped us with ensuring we held parent meetings to get their buy-in and commitment. Through the meetings we educated them on the program model design. We were pleasantly surprised that most of the parents wanted this program and made the commitment to keep their children in the program at least until elementary. Parents knew exactly how their children were going to be educated and why.-Olivia Martinez, Dual Language English Language Development & Biliteracy Director
They found this type of planning to be very effective. All stakeholders knew what to expect and the implementation of the program was closely monitored and heavily supported. The district would advise other programs to plan at least a year in advance. They felt that the planning process was very important because it involved all stakeholders.
Parents should also be made aware and multiple meetings should take place to educate parents, so they can make informed decisions. Also, make sure that there is support staff to monitor the implementation of the program. The monitoring piece is crucial. The Dual Language Program is very effective when implemented with fidelity. As such, the biggest challenge that our program faces is when new administrators are hired and they don’t fully understand biliteracy but believe that English is the way to go.
The district believes that their program would be most effective if they had additional staff just for monitoring and providing support to the campuses on a daily if not weekly basis. As their program is a 50/50 program design model, it gives equal time to both languages to develop biliterate students by 5th grade. Most of their students continue in the dual language program in middle school and high school. Just as they receive English language arts every year, they also receive Spanish language arts. By the end of their senior year, their students are eligible to receive the Seal of Biliteracy.
This district welcomes the opportunity to other programs to visit them. They believe this helps them to see the implementation of the dual language program at the different levels (elementary, middle and high school) and that dual language is a great program for all students, but necessary for English learners. They truly believe and implement that the Dual Language Program is the only one that can close the achievement gap for English learners.
This program is excelling at producing and graduating bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural students every school year. For example, this year they will certify that 490 students will graduate with a Seal of Biliteracy. Their graduating cohorts have been increasing every year. Next year, 2020, they are projecting over 500 students and in 2021, over 1,000 students will graduate with a Seal of Biliteracy.
For the past two years, we have implemented Mandarin Chinese at our Southwest Early College High School feeder pattern. Our students are becoming trilingual! Next school year (2019-2020) we will be implementing an Arabic language program at PSJA Memorial Early College High School and at Alamo and Murphy Middle Schools, and, we are working on bringing in Korean. We are trying to provide as many opportunities to our students as possible. Bringing in other languages will help make the world seem smaller for them, so they won’t be afraid to go visit/work in other countries and be part of their languages and cultures.