Hispanic Heritage: Dual-language learning


According to the 2010 Census, more than 16% of Sioux City’s population is Hispanic.

As that population continues to grow, one private school has created a dual-language program.

The program is designed to bridge the language gap between Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking students.

KCAU 9’s Jessica Watson took a look at the dual-language program at Bishop Heelan Elementary School.

This is the second year for Bishop Heelan’s dual-language program. Right now, kindergarteners and first graders, whose parents have chosen the program, are learning mostly in Spanish.

As the student moves on, they will learn in Spanish and English through fifth grade.

“We know that our community in Siouxland is always changing, and we really wanted to find a way to reach out to our Hispanic families and our Hispanic Catholic community, and so, we thought a dual-language academy would be a great way to do that,” Kate Connely, Principal of Dual-Language Academy.

“Young kids’ brains are so flexible and pliable that they pick up the language quicker than we do as adults, so it’s really fun to watch them grow academically in a new language and also in their academic skills as preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders,” said Connely.

“Try to help them, like push them into the language. I will start like a phrase, like ‘oh what are you playing,’ and I will start like ‘estoy hugando’ which means ‘I’m playing,’ and they will finish the sentence like basic words, labels of them practice their Spanish to hopefully make them fluent by the end of the year,” said Mayra Padilla, a preschool teacher.

Mayra Padilla teaches preschool for the dual-language program. She says a program like this can make a big difference.

“I’m bilingual, and it has helped me many times, and I am able to help other people when they need help, like translating something, or they don’t understand a certain language. I’ll break that barrier, and I think having more people that are bilingual can help a lot more people as well, and just break down those barriers that separate people and just bring up together,” she said.

While students in the program learn in both languages, 90% of their day is in Spanish.

“Their day is all in Spanish, basically. The teacher does some transitions in English. Right now, you will see a little more in English because we want to make sure those routines and procedures are established, and then all of their academic skills are in Spanish,” Connely.

As the students move up each year, 10% more of their classes will include English, and Padilla says she enjoys sharing the culture with her students.

“There’s so many people here that speak Spanish, and to keep that culture, even though they are far away from home, just to keep it and bring home here, and keep our culture going into the next generations,” said Padilla.

The goal is for all students to be fluent in Spanish by the end of the school year.

“That kindergarten class that is now first graders, watching them end the year being able to read at a first or second grade level in Spanish, plus they were able to read at a second grade level in English,” said Connely.

The Sioux City school district also offers a dual language program at Irving Elementary School.

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