DLI Program Impresses Parents

Interview with Mercedes Ochoa, Principal & Leonard Perez, Vice Principal

By Frédéric M. Martin, Editor-in-Chief

Students who entered the Dual Language Instruction Program (DLI) with no second language are now fully engaged into their new language. One of the most satisfying surprises from this first year of DLI at Madison Elementary, is that the Kinder students, when given the option to speak, gravitate towards using their second language. The children also seem to transfer and apply the rigor of their second language back to their first language, in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and structure. These are fundamentals they would not necessarily know to apply, but those aspects of learning seem to flow naturally from the DLI program study of a second language. Although it takes many years to fully master a second language, and not all students learn at the same rate, the structure of the classroom does promote and significantly facilitates the use of the second language, with, apparently, little resistance from the children. The kids seem fully engaged in the exercise and do use what they know of the second language, in the classroom setting, and, naturally often revert to their native language at recess (this was to be expected, per our DLI consultants). DLI offers the benefit of more intense rigor, enhanced vocabulary, richer content and stricter use of grammar by teachers themselves. The program pushes beyond acquiring conversational language and is focused on mastery at a level high enough for both academic reading and writing. Research shows this strengthens all areas of the students’ first language as well. The first year at Madison was Kinder and the program will expand into the first grade in the academic year 2018-2019. We expect our students to be fully biliterate by 6th grade. The plan is also to expand the program into junior high and potentially high school, by the time this first cohort reaches that level in their academic career. The first year featured 114 student, with a maximum of 24 students per class. We currently have 219 students enrolled for next year (Kinder and first grade students) and expect to have a maximum total of 240 students altogether. The DLI program contains assessment tools that allow us to measure their acquisition of the second language and the basic literacy which, together, clearly translate into positive growth in overall academic progress; in fact, there are more progress assessments performed on these students than are usually used in monolingual programs. Another way to assess the performance of the program is the teacher feedback: our teachers often report that they love their work, and their enthusiasm is infectious to the school staff, the school’s administration, and the students themselves. The children were given bilingual materials to use over the summer, although we honestly expect some loss of mastery of the second language over the summer break, our program is tailored to bring the students back to their pre-summer proficiency levels within the first weeks of the next school year. Our program is well-funded and fully supported by the MUSD board and administration, but we gratefully accept donations towards the enrichment of our DLI program. We are building a bilingual library and hope to keep adding internally as well as incorporating donations to further enrich our resources. Although some parents had initial hesitations about the DLI program, ranging from the potential student reticence to learn another language to the fear of wasting an entire academic year learning another language while missing out on the academic progress expected in the traditional monolingual education. As we moved through the year, those fears all abated and all the parents were eventually fully engaged in the DLI program. In fact, we only lost one student from the program, due to external factors, unrelated to the program, its content, or the parents’ appreciation of the program. Essentially, we have a 100% repeat rate for next year and all our metrics indicate this will keep performing as the students move to their second DLI year. California has over 200 well established DLI programs that show higher academic achievement trends than the best students in the traditional monolingual programs. In fact, the California DLI programs evaluations indicate that DLI students end up surpassing so-called Reclassified Fluent English Learners (RFEP) students, themselves bilingual, who often academically outperform native English speakers. That is what we expect in our school, but we cannot confirm that result locally, at this early time, since we are just getting started in Madera. We expect a lot from our DLI students and are confident this program will be successful and provide a key advantage for recruiting students into the Madera Unified School District and a clean benefit for our student population in their academic journey. Interestingly, many parents join the program so their children can communicate with their non-English speaking grandparents. The academic benefit is also a strong selling point for the program, particularly since the research presented to prospective parents, abundantly documents that biliterate students consistently outperform their mono-literate counterparts (and are often on par with G.A.T.E. students), in their academic achievements, and are effectively trained to be qualified for more opportunities in the workplace. The teachers are dedicated and excited about teaching in this innovative program, boosted by the students’ parents who often reward them with gifts, compliments, and enthusiastically positive feedback. The respect that emanates from the children’s learning of proper Spanish is also a welcome by-product from the DLI program, as we witness genuine caring from the students in ways that are significantly noticeable: politeness, proactive engagement, and overall kindness, because the kids themselves know they are involved in something that is very special. Two of the five DLI teachers, from the first cohort, had previous experience teaching in a DLI program, and they actively share their experience and tips in a very compact team environment. This year, there will be ten DLI teachers at Madison Elementary, all of whom have already been hired and are already working on their lesson plans for the coming year. It was difficult to find qualified teachers, but we eventually did find the right educators for the two grades that will be served in 2018-2019. Speaking a language does not necessarily mean you can teach it, so teachers have to be certified by the state as qualified to not only speak the two languages but also to be able to teach equally well in both languages. Some of the teachers we hired taught in other schools within MUSD, one teacher came from our team at Madison, and two teachers came from the Long Beach Unified School District. “I’m impressed!” is the most common sentence we hear from parents when asked about their take on the program and how their children are doing at school. The DLI program is shaping up to be a very compelling asset for MUSD and will undoubtedly contribute to the attractiveness of the overall school district, for the Madera community and for families that are relocating to the Central Valley.

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