HAINES CITY — One Sandhill Elementary School second grader’s parents were pleasantly surprised at the student’s Spanish speaking ability during a recent missionary trip.
The family had traveled with their church to Guatemala when, because of what he’d learned in the school’s Dual Language Program, the boy was able to help as the group’s guide.
The Dual Language Program at Sandhill Elementary School is much more than learning how to count in Spanish or how to greet a friend in English, too. Staff say it is an out-of-the-box curriculum that immerses the elementary school students in their second language’s culture.
Sandhill was the first Polk County school to practice the Dual Language Program, beginning with two kindergarten classes — one with an English speaking teacher and the other with a Spanish speaking teacher.
“The classes were set up so that half of the students in each homeroom had English as their native language and the other half had Spanish as their native language,” explained Jennifer Glasgow, one of the founding teachers of the program. “Each year, following that first year, our school added on a grade level until we had classes through fifth grade. Currently, we have approximately 200 students enrolled in this program.”
Back in 2006, Glasgow, Marie Vazquez and several others were pioneers of the program.
“A large number of native speakers in both English and Spanish languages found in Polk County made this an opportune place to start a program that allowed for speakers in multiple languages to learn and grow while providing educational and cultural opportunities for all involved,” Glasgow said.
According to the Polk County Public School website, dual language includes: a 50/50 two-way bilingual immersion program; high academic standards; bilingual certified teachers; cooperative learning and thematic instruction.
“The Spanish teachers can also commonly be found creating materials to go along with the same concepts their teaching counterparts are teaching in English,” Glasgow said.
And the benefits may extend beyond language, too.
“According to standardized test results at the school level, students in the third, fourth and fifth-grade dual language program outperform their peers, with a high percentage earning proficiency ratings on the state assessments,” Glasgow said.
But, perhaps most important is the cross-cultural understanding that is developed between the students.
“All students read, write, and speak in both English and Spanish on a daily basis, and their families are invested in their progress,” Vazquez said. “The students truly become a family unit as they move from grade to grade with their peer group, as they learn to be respectful of each other’s cultural backgrounds.”
Teachers integrate Hispanic culture into the program in a variety of ways.
“At Christmas, kindergarten students can be found performing a parranda, caroling through the other classrooms singing traditional songs,” Vazquez said. “During Hispanic Heritage Month, classes can be seen creating and sharing presentations on different countries where Spanish is the prominent language. … Also, students learn songs and stories in both English and Spanish.”
Currently, five Polk County elementary schools have the dual language program: two in Haines City, two in the Poinciana area and one in Lakeland.