At the Carrboro Elementary School in North Carolina, it is common to see students huddled together while doing classroom activities. In the fourth grade class under Pedro Ortiz, 17 of his students were gathered in a circle looking at a world map. They were discussing spaceships. A student in the group wanted to contribute to the discussion by raising her hand, but stopped for a while to think of how “taking off” is said in Spanish.
This is already becoming a typical scene at Carrboro Elementary School where the students learn all their lessons using the Spanish language for half of their school day. A teacher, Kendall Brees, who teaches fourth graders during the English half of the day, expressed her appreciation for the culture at their school.
Attending a school with dual language programs proved beneficial to the young students in this elementary school. VIF International Education, a non-profit based in Chapel Hill released the results of the evaluation done by the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill Education Policy Initiatives at Carolina in March.
Their study showed that students who participated in the foreign language immersion program produced by VIF earned higher test score on their state End-of-Grade tests, regardless of their ethnicity, proficiency in the English language and economic status.
According to the school system’s dual language coordinator, Elaine Watson-Grant, the partnership between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) and VIF, which creates global education programs, allowed them to bring in language teachers from other countries so students could learn from native speakers.
Their own dual language program
The CHCCS also have their own dual language program, aside from the one they have running in cooperation with VIF, and their own program likewise showed positive results, based on the research conducted by Thomas & Collier in 2010. The students of CHCCS performed well in their End-of-Grade tests for math and reading, compared to students who were not into the dual language program.
Although there is still a gap in achievement, as African American students and students with limited English language skills showed lower levels of achievement, it was smaller among students participating in the dual language classes.
Ms. Watson-Grant believes that the right atmosphere for promoting student achievement is created by the school’s own dual language immersion programs. She thinks it is first and foremost due to the school’s close-knit community. She compared it to an island where language is the tool for currency exchange. She added that the languages bridge the gap between native and non-native English speakers because they have to rely on each other. Teacher Brees added that there is unity among her fourth graders and their social standing in the community makes no difference in her students, and they all work well together, whether some of them live in affluent neighborhoods or are living in trailer parks.
Two more elementary schools in the district, Frank Porter Graham Elementary and Glenwood Elementary School, have dual language programs where students spend half of the day learning their lessons in Chinese, French or Spanish.