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Bridgeport says 'hola' to dual-language program


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Bridgeport Elementary School Principal Debbie Ebert said the Tualatin school is ready for Spanish-language classes. Nearly half of her students speak Spanish at home, she said, and immersion classes help students perform better in the classroom and lower the achievement gap.In a school as diverse as Bridgeport Elementary, in the end, the decision came as little surprise.

The Tigard-Tualatin School Board approved a plan Monday to start a dual-language immersion program at Bridgeport Elementary beginning this fall.

In the dual-language program, students spend part of their day being taught in English and the remainder of the day in Spanish, eventually becoming fluent in both languages as they work their way through the program.

The school’s parent community and staff have pushed for months to see dual-language classes, which they say will help lower the achievement gap at one of the most diverse schools in the district.

Nearly half of Bridgeport’s student body speaks Spanish, said Principal Debbie Ebert.

The Tualatin school is the second to adopt a dual-language program in Tigard-Tualatin. Metzger Elementary School started a similar program this past fall.

Under the Bridgeport plan, next year’s kindergartners would have a choice to enter either an English-only or dual-language class.

The program’s goal is to increase the performance of struggling non-native English speakers at the school and lower the school’s achievement gap between English-speakers and non-native English speakers.

The data for dual-language is clear, Ebert told the School Board on Jan. 28. Bilingual students have a lower drop-out rate, have higher college entrance rates and help lower the achievement gap because students are able to pick up the second language more easily when they are immersed in it.

The class will only be offered in kindergarten at first, with a grade level added as students work through the system each year until immersion options are available at each grade level.

The program is a long time coming for Bridgeport, which toyed with the idea four years ago but ultimately decided against it.

Parents, teachers and school staff have advocated for the program after the successful launch of Metzger’s program.

“The community is ready to take this on,” said Ebert, who took over as principal last September. “There has been a lot of push by (former Bridgeport principal) Jerry Nihill over the last few years to educate folks on the benefits of this type of programming. Timing is everything, and through his hard work, we have the opportunity to try this again.”

Looking ahead

The classes will be open to any incoming kindergartner at Bridgeport.

Still to be decided is how the school will structure its dual-language program.

“There are still so many variables that we don’t know, yet,” Ebert said.

The school has proposed a so-called “50/50” model, where students would spend half their day with a Spanish-speaking teacher and half with an English-speaking teacher. Ebert said the school could roll out the program without any staffing changes.

Students in Metzger’s dual-language classes spend nearly 90 percent of their class time in Spanish, with English used sparingly — only in physical education classes, music and on the playground at recess.

Ebert said that kind of program is favorable, but would require the school to hire more bilingual teachers.

“As we secure the staffing, we can know what kind of a model we’ll be able to use,” Ebert said. “We definitely know that it’s best in the lower grades to start with as much Spanish as possible, and we’ll shoot for that.”

The plan is to launch two full-day Spanish immersion classes in addition to two traditional classes.

English speakers would receive an additional half-hour of Spanish. Spanish speakers would spend that time developing more of their English skills.

After Metzger launched its dual-language program, it saw record-breaking enrollment numbers in its kindergarten classes.

Ebert said she expects to see similar numbers at Bridgeport, especially given the amount of support the idea has garnered among parents.

“Many people have told me they will look elsewhere if we don’t have a dual-language program next year,” Ebert said. “We’ll be seeing more people coming through the door, and that means more staffing.”

A “kindergarten roundup” will be held Tuesday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Bridgeport Elementary School, 5505 S.W. Borland Road, in Tualatin.