Ochoco Elementarys Dual Language Program has thrived in its first four years

In its fourth year, Ochoco Elementary School's Dual Language program is proving that, in order to learn English, Spanish-speaking students need not leave their own language, and culture behind.

“We use our student’s Spanish language skills to help them learn English,” said first-grade dual language teacher Tiffany Cooke. “We present material for one week in Spanish, and then one week in English. Our students learn vocabulary in both languages, using existing language skills to help them acquire English.”

With 100 English Language Learning students in the Crook County School District, and over 75 of them attending school at Ochoco, the dual language program is a perfect fit.

Students in Cathy Fall’s third grade class have been speaking both English and Spanish since kindergarten, evenly splitting their class time with each language.

“We needed to close the achievement gap with our Spanish speaking students,” said Fall. “We know that if a non-English-speaking student is taught math in English, it is really hard for them. By teaching math in Spanish, those students are not falling behind while learning English.”

Cooke cites research that shows dual language programs to be far superior to the more traditional English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

“Some people think students will learn English faster if they are taught in English only,” she said, “We believe that, if they know how to read and write in their own language, they learn English faster.”

Before the implementation of the dual language program, Fall needed to pull students out of class for a half-hour of English language instruction.

“Teaching English for 30 minutes a day is not very effective,” she said, adding that students would quickly forget what they learned as it was out of context with the rest of their school day.

With 100 students enrolled in the dual language program, Fall and Cooke have demonstrated how quickly such a program can be up and running.

“We visited Garfield Elementary in Corvallis in January of 2010 and started our own program in the fall of that year.” said Fall.

The program actively recruits families willing to commit for four years, as the bilingual curriculum follows students from Kindergarten through third grade.

“We want families that are committed to the dual language experience, to keep our class numbers up,” said Fall, noting that attrition, and students moving out of district, tends to impact class size.

Classes are composed of equal numbers of native English speakers and native Spanish speakers. This mix of language and culture enriches the student’s learning environment and provides increased opportunities for interaction between students in both languages.

The Center for Applied Linguistics states that “students who participate in dual-language programs achieve grade-level academic abilities, have well developed language and literacy skills in both languages, and experience cross-cultural competencies.”

Fall and Cooke agree.

“It's great to see the relationships students build in class,” said Cooke. “After a while they don’t even notice skin color, they just know each other so well. They don’t mind being paired with a Spanish speaker because they are all Spanish speakers.”

The district’s goal for the program is to ensure that grade performance is not compromised due to the introduction of a second language. Students are expected to perform at, or above, grade level in all academic areas in both languages.

Fall said that her students had just completed the reading component of the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) test taken last week, with all students taking the test in English.

“All of our English speakers are meeting or exceeding reading benchmarks,” she said, adding that she is confident that, by fifth grade, all students will meet reading grade levels.

?It is well known that it takes six years to completely learn a new language,” she explained, hoping the school is able to continue, at some level, the dual language experience through fifth grade.

Students in the program experience a multicultural school environment and learn to demonstrate positive cross-cultural attitudes.

There are benefits to native English speaking students as well.

Fall and Cooke believe those students benefit from the cognitive learning of a second language and are able to form relationships that might not otherwise be available to them.

Although the program's emphasis is on math and language skills, students are also building a strong sense of community.

“These students have been classmates for four years,” said Fall. “We are a strong teaching team, all serving the same students, so we try to make our kindergarten through third grade students one big family.”

A family of 100 students, that is, all learning about each others' language, and culture.

“All of our dual language students are language learners,” said Cooke. “Even my English speaking students are learning new words. All week, every week, we are all language learners.”

Parents of students entering kindergarten in the fall of 2014 are encouraged to attend the district's kindergarten roundup on Monday, April 7 at Cecil Sly from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Information about the dual language program will be available for those interested in enrolling their child. There is no added cost for the program but space is limited.

Visit for more information and an application.

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