“Whatever It Takes”
The Journey of a Dual-Language Campus Making a Difference in the Lives of Students
Many schools want to commit to successfully implementing a dual-language program; however, with numerous implementation model options to choose from, and with the challenges involved in building a program from the ground up, many schools find themselves uncertain about how to make their program successful. Due to the many requests for our support in this area, we set out to find schools with dual-language models that could boast records of achievement. One such model was found at Ramona Elementary School in the Ysleta Independent School District. Ysleta ISD is situated in El Paso, Texas, and has historically been known for implementing bilingual programs. Today, the vision statement of the district reads, “All students who enroll in our schools will graduate from high school, fluent in two or more languages, prepared and inspired to continue their education in a four year college, university or institution of higher education so that they become successful citizens in their community.” This is a powerful vision and promise for Ysleta ISD students and the community. Ramona Elementary understands the power in the district’s vision and works intentionally and purposefully to embrace it for the benefit of all learners.
According to the 2018 Texas Academic Performance Report on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website, Ramona Elementary received five distinction designations: Academic Achievement in ELA/Reading; Academic Achievement in Mathematics; Academic Achievement in Science; Top 25 Percent: Comparative Closing the Gaps; and Postsecondary Readiness. As a Title I campus, with 80% of students designated as economically disadvantaged and 41% of students designated as limited English proficient, Ramona Elementary credits many of its academic successes to its Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) focus and K-6 dual- language program. These are not seen as separate, isolated programs; rather, STEM and dual language are integrated seamlessly to improve the achievement of all students. For example, monolingual and dual-language students work together in mixed groupings to complete TEKS-based engineering challenges. Students participate in four to six inquiry-based challenges per year. These challenges allow the students to practice listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking about a specific topic as they are responsible for researching and creating visuals and scaffolds to support understanding. Irene Ahumada Medlin, Ramona Elementary principal, reports that student thinking has changed as a result of students’ working on challenges and engaging in the process of inquiry. She also reports strong participation from students’ families and gives credit to them and everyone on her staff who remains loyal and committed to supporting student learning. Medlin says that Ramona Elementary’s success with dual language is a testament to the people who help make it happen.
Dual language at Ramona Elementary has not always been as successful as it is today. Data trends in 2014 showed that English learners were not making adequate progress in their English development; furthermore, the district missed achieving system safeguards for English learner graduation rates. So what made the difference for Ramona Elementary? Facts from the trends in the data served as a call to action for the district administration. They conducted campus visits and held principal meetings to determine what needed to be changed. The outcome of this information-gathering process was a revision of the dual-language model to a new model that was research-based, aligned to state standards, and consistent throughout the district. This revised dual-language model was rolled out in 2015 and provided a format for kindergarten through grade 6. Now in its fourth year of implementation, the dual-language program leads students to bilingual proficiency by continuing past the elementary level, all the way to graduation.
There are several cognitive and economic benefits of being bilingual (Spitzer, 2016; Burton, 2018). Students at Ramona Elementary are able to maximize the cognitive benefits of bilingualism through inquiry with ongoing practice in the use of language. According to research by the Center for Advanced Research and Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota, both one-way and two-way language immersion programs produce benefits, not only of bilingualism, but also of cognitive skill development and increased economic opportunities in the job market (Fortune, 2012). The STEM challenges, which provide opportunities for dual- language students to group with monolingual students, are akin to the reality of the job market facing 21st-century students. Across the United States, an increasing number of jobs give preference to bilingual candidates. Therefore, a prekindergarten-through-12th-grade focus on developing strong models for dual-language programs can enhance the readiness of future generations of college- and career-bound students, but it requires a commitment. The principal and other stakeholders at Ramona Elementary would say it takes (1) getting to know students and their backgrounds and using the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS); (2) providing as many opportunities as possible for dual-language students to group and interact with monolingual students; and (3) celebrating evident growth, no matter how small. Ramona Elementary believed in the Ysleta ISD vision and believed in never giving up. Through commitment and effort, the school showed that it is possible to make a difference in students’ educational trajectories.
Burton, N. (2018, July 28). Beyond words: The benefits of being bilingual. [Web log post]. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201807/beyond-words-the-benefits-being-bilingual
Fortune, T. W. (2012). What the research says about immersion. Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition. Retrieved from http://carla.umn.edu/immersion/documents/ImmersionResearch_Fortune.pdf
Spitzer, M. (2016). Bilingual benefits in education and health. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 5(2), 67-76. DOI 10.1016/j.tine.2016.07.004
About the Authors
Genise Henry, PhD, serves as the director of Academic Foundations for the Institute for Public School Initiatives (IPSI) at UT Austin. She has an extensive background in education spanning Pre-K–20 in urban and rural settings, offering expertise in instructional leadership and coaching, professional development, program evaluation, research, and supporting diverse student populations. Genise has served as an expert trainer for the ELA/R TEKS and for the Texas Literacy Achievement Academies. She also has experience in supporting educators in virtual learning environments and is published in books and articles with topics related to theory and practice working together, educator collaboration, and educational leadership and spirituality. Genise was featured in Texas Monthly magazine as a Barbara Jackson Scholar and was also named a David L. Clark scholar. She holds teacher, principal, and superintendent certifications. She earned both a PhD in Education: School Improvement and master’s degree in education from Texas State University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Huston Tillotson University.
Julie Schmal, PhD, is a senior field trainer analyst for Academic Foundations at IPSI, where she supports teachers, coaches, and administrators to build capacity and improve student success. She develops and presents a variety of professional development sessions and support resources in the areas of literacy across content areas, writing instruction, pedagogy, curriculum development, and instructional coaching at the campus, district, and state levels. For the past six years, she has provided extensive coaching support to teachers at the elementary and secondary levels. Julie’s dissertation study focused on the literacy coaching relationship in the context of disciplinary literacy. She holds a doctoral degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio, a Master of Arts in teaching from Bethel University, and a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame.