Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

28° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Grade school expands dual language classes

With kindergarten students huddled around her, Willard Elementary School Teacher Maria Torres revealed a set of x-rays she was hiding behind her back.

“Quiero que miren,” Torres said, instructing the students to pay close attention to each x-ray sheet.

As she lifted up each x-ray, the students tried to identify each picture and shouted out answers.

“It’s a chameleon,” one student said, pointing to the first image.

“Muy bien,” Torres said.

In Torres’ classroom at Willard, 2700 Hurd Ave., every day is a multicultural experience as the students are taught in both English and Spanish.

As part of District 65’s Two-Way Immersion program, an educational initiative aimed at promoting bilingualism in elementary school students, Torres’ class uses both languages fluidly on a daily basis.

The program will be expanding to the second grade next year, said Willard Principal Shelley Carey. The school plans to add a class for the next highest grade every year until all grade levels from kindergarten to fifth grade are represented.

“Students who are in the program do well in the long term,” Carey said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for children.”

An even mix of children from English-speaking families and Spanish-speaking families make up the class, which allows Spanish speakers to gain exposure to English in both a classroom and social setting.

“At this point, we set a foundation for their basic language skills in their dominant language,” Torres said. “While we’re doing that, we promote oral production in the other language.”

The TWI program is more successful in teaching English to Spanish speakers than comparable programs, said Torres, who is trained to teach in both languages.

In traditional English as a Second Language classes for Spanish speakers, only those students struggling with English are grouped together. TWI classes mix the two groups, which allows Spanish speakers to learn at a higher rate.

“In the TWI model, English speakers serve as models for the Spanish speakers,” Torres said. “The transition into middle school becomes much better because they are able to understand and keep up.”

Down the hall from Torres’ classroom, Christa Garcia’s first-grade TWI class is taking a spelling test with words from both languages.

After their exam, the children surround Garcia for “la merienda,” the afternoon snack. All join in a Spanish language song as snacks are passed out to the students.

The students then participate in individual activities. More advanced students read books on their own, others highlight their parts in a play, while still others helped each other solve puzzles and construct sentences with educational games.

All these activities are done in either English or Spanish.

“A lot of times, the English speakers are not cognizant that they’re learning Spanish,” Garcia said. “That’s the point – they’re immersed in it.”

Adorning the walls of both classrooms are posters with Spanish and English words and phrases. These decorations are delineated by color, red for Spanish and blue for English. Spanish language labels are attached to different objects throughout the room.

By the time these TWI program students graduate from the fifth grade, they are expected to understand, read and write in both languages with equal proficiency.

“Learning a different language is such a benefit in navigating this world,” Garcia said. “The diversity and tolerance this program promotes makes a big difference.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Grade school expands dual language classes