Students at Nuestro Mundo
Rhea Vedro (left) and Patricia Venegas work for MMSD's DLI program.
Thanks to an extension, parents have a little time left to consider something that could change their child's life: the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD)'s Spanish/English Dual Language Immersion Program (DLI) has extended the application deadline for the 2012-13 lottery. DLI programs are designed to provide the unique opportunity to help children cultivate true biliteracy in both academic English and Spanish.
“If you're truly biliterate in both English and Spanish you are going to have so many more opportunities in this country ... this is the changing face of America,” says Rhea Vedro, DLI Family Liason at MMSD. “Whatever direction you are coming from, it's so important to be able to compete in terms of testing for high school or college placement. In the more immediate, national studies show that kids that participate in these programs, by the time they get to high school, actually excel over their peers in both English and Spanish.”
There is a great demand for DLI programs and there are long wait lists at many schools throughout the United States. DLI teachers help their students learn language and content through integrated thematic units of instruction, guided language tasks, and ongoing student-centered formative assessments. The language and cultural diversity of DLI classrooms provides authentic opportunities for students to learn from each other.
MMSD is currently looking for students who are going into kindergarten to participate in DLI. The classroom composition is 50 percent native Spanish speakers and 50 percent children whose first language is not Spanish. There are many different dual language immersion program models throughout the United States, but the one that MMSD offers is a 90/10 model. “That means when they come in for kindergarten, they are receiving 90 percent of their academic instruction in Spanish so it's an immersion program and the teachers maintain language separation,” Vedro says. “So when they are teaching in Spanish, they will just keep talking in Spanish — they are not going back and forth and back and forth. During the English instruction time they are talking in English.”
Vedro adds that they do use thematic units. “For example, if you are learning about the life cycle of butterflies in Spanish you might be learning about the life cycles of butterflies as well during your English time so that the vocabulary and the context are able to transfer,” Vedro says.
In first grade, the program will add 10 percent more English instruction and in second grade they will add another 10 percent. “By fourth grade it is 50/50 — half of the instruction time is Spanish and half of the instruction time is in English,” Vedro says. “So we're really looking for parents who are excited about this and can commit their child to at least fifth grade — and ideally on through their whole career — so they can reap the true benefits of learning biliteracy.”
It's really not until the third grade that the focus on English literacy skills becomes heavy. “There is a natural delay where your kids will start out stronger in their reading and writing in Spanish, but it will shift,” Vedro says. “It's something that is based upon successful programs around the country.”
Effective DLI programs result in improved academic achievement and graduation rates of English language learners (ELLs). In addition to enhanced academic achievement, DLI students develop high levels of first and second language proficiency. DLI students develop biliterate, bicultural, and cognitive skills critical for full participation in today’s interdependent, interconnected, and increasingly competitive global context.
But parents may still have some concerns. English-speaking parents may worry about how their kid will just jump into an immersion program. Will the youngster get frustrated? What if the parent can't help them with homework at home?
“Our teachers are really experienced in working with the kids — kindergarten particularly — as they come into the program and they ease them in with lots of games and play and music-based things,” Vedro says. “They are really, really good at making sure that everybody is moving forward at the same time. We have a lot of ways in which we work with parents to help them support their kids in the program. Very quickly, the kids are comprehending what's going on.”
Children are sponges at that age, Vedro says, and it's an amazing time to expose them to DLI. “All kinds of research is coming out about the cognitive brain development benefits of learning multiple languages at a young age,” Vedro says. “The way that the brain works when kids are little is that they are accessing language acquisition at the same part of their brain. They don't have to go from one part of their brain back and forth to another part. It's all in one place. Our brains are set up to learn many, many languages at the same time if we want to. After that, it becomes harder and harder as we age.”
Metalinguistic and metacognitive skills gained through DLI learning experiences result in higher academic achievement. DLI programs reflect and honor the linguistic and cultural diversity of the community and prepare students for academic and personal success.
One of the goals of the DLI Program is to outreach more and get more minorities involved including African American kids. The DLI program supports district efforts to close the academic achievement gap between English-language learners (ELLs) and their peers and DLI programs have reported decreases in student mobility and positive outcomes for African American students as compared with non-DLI students of similar background.
“There's a ton of emphasis on bicultural exchange,” Vedro says. “Holidays are celebrated by looking at opportunities to take advantage of learning. A lot of time is spent on celebrations and food... fun stuff for kids that is educational, too. They are taken as opportunities for thematic units to build on things that are going on naturally in the calendars around the world.”
Vedro says that parents can feel free to arrange visits to DLI classrooms if they want to go in and check it out and see if it is right for their child.
“It's really exciting when you go into one of these classrooms because you see all of these kids really looking different but speaking Spanish,” Vedro adds. “It's like something you would see in Europe, but you don't really see it here. It helps expand everybody's horizons and it shifts the starting point of what's an asset and what's a deficit. It's just really a beautiful program.”
The first lottery deadline to enroll your child in DLI is April 13. Interested families can complete the application via phone in Spanish or English by calling (608)663-5489.