9/27/15 Six Alamance-Burlington Schools Now Have Splash Dual-Language Programs

Doubling Down
Kindergarten students, from left, Kamiya Weathers, Evelyn Correa and Tahlyah Cordero identify Spanish words in the Splash program at Eastlawn Elementary School.

Sam Roberts / Times-News

Kindergarten students, from left, Kamiya Weathers, Evelyn Correa and Tahlyah Cordero identify Spanish words in the Splash program at Eastlawn Elementary School.

Six Alamance-Burlington Schools Now Have Splash Dual-Language Programs
Early Research Indicates That Students Who Grow Up With Two Languages Gain Academic Benefits
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 9/27/15  
Reprinted with permission.  

   Daycis Marrero’s kindergarten class was going through stations — different lessons around the room.

   Five sat with her naming pictures “el papá, la pelota, la papa” or daddy, ball and potato.

   This is the first year Eastlawn Elementary has had the dual-language classes with the Splash Spanish-immersion program. These kids spend one day learning typical kindergarten lessons in Spanish, and the next learning in English. About half of them speak Spanish at home, so they are all learning a second language.

   Annelise Weaver, 12, is now in seventh grade. She started Splash’s full-immersion program at Elon in first grade and followed it to Western Alamance Middle School last year.

   Splash is now in six schools in the Alamance-Burlington School System. Smith and Elon elementary schools and Western Alamance and Turrentine middle schools have full-immersion programs where 80 to 90 percent of the classes are taught in Spanish. Eastlawn and South Graham have dual-immersion programs where classes are 50/50 Spanish and English.

   The school board’s goal, and a goal in the district’s strategic plan, is to have specialized programs in all schools aiming for equity among schools. Now, there is a Splash program in four of the district’s six high school zones, said Kent Byrd, senior executive director for secondary education with ABSS, and there could be more down the road.

Splash stats  

   THE DISTRICT WORKS with Visiting International Faculty in Chapel Hill, which finds teachers from abroad. They come on three-year contracts. Weaver’s teacher at Western, Patricia Amorocho Gualdron, came from Colombia late this summer, where she taught high school chemistry. Here, she teaches Splash students global studies and environmental science in Spanish.

   Weaver’s other classes are in English now that she is in middle school. That is in part because the difficulty of getting teachers with higher-level expertise that are fluent in Spanish, Byrd said, and part of it is giving Splash students the chance to try out other electives and activities, like band.

   Weaver remembers joining the program in first grade when it was full immersion, which is about as late as students can join. Her classmates had started the year before.

   “It was completely different,” she said. “As soon as I walked into the classroom they just, like, started speaking Spanish to me, and I had no idea what they were saying. But I got help from the other students, which was nice, and I had after-school sessions, so I began to catch up, and it made more sense after.”

   Her mother, Lauren Haldeman, said it took about five months for things to click. It was a rough five months with a lot of tears at the end of the day, but Haldeman said the results won her over.

   “I work with Spanish speakers, and I brought Annelise with me to do a health fair, and she served as my interpreter,” Haldeman said. “That was third grade.”

   She and her husband, Tony Weaver, sent all four of their daughters into the Splash program at Elon. Their youngest, Meegan, is in kindergarten now.

   SPLASH IS ALMOST like two programs, the full immersion at Elon and Smith, and the 50-50 at Eastlawn and South Graham. Kevin Smith, director of dual-language programs at VIF, said the two styles get at the two main reasons for dual language programs.

   “One is enrichment, and one is achievement and closing the achievement gap,” Smith said in a phone interview from Costa Rica. “And they do show those results; they do make children more successful academically.”

   While there is a lot of research left to be done on the impact of dual-language education, there is a lot of evidence that growing up with two languages has benefits for children’s brain development. Research from the U.S. Department of Education shows that kids in dual-language programs nationwide score higher both in English and their second language, have better attendance and fewer discipline problems.

   Local test scores seem to go along with that. Splash students at Elon, Smith and South Graham elementary schools scored 17 percentage points higher on end-of-grade math tests than their peers and nearly 20 percent higher in reading, according to ABSS figures.

   Those numbers do not necessarily mean Splash is making those students better at math. Splash families are self-selecting for parental involvement, widely considered the secret sauce of student achievement.

   While there is a lottery to get into the program, said Jean Maness, senior executive director of elementary education at ABSS, parents do have to apply. Haldeman and Weaver talked a lot about how involved the parents in the Splash program are.

   But the numbers speak to one thing for sure:

   “It’s certainly not hurting them,” said Steve Achey, ABSS of director of accountability, research and evaluation.

   Byrd said the district has some broad ideas about what to do in high school but wants to get input from parents. Students could get class credit by demonstrating their mastery of Spanish, go for college credit or move on to a third language.