HARLINGEN — How do you say it?
Well, that depends on what language you’re speaking.
Youngsters in the Harlingen school district may ask “How are you?” as they pass you in the halls but they might just as easily say, “Como te va?”
It’s all the same, but not exactly, and the district’s dual language program wants its students to understand the whole panorama of language.
“I love it,” said Jaidon Galvan, 10, a fourth grader in Sylvia Lopez’s dual language class at Sam Houston Elementary, one of five in the district designated a dual language academy.
The other elementary schools are Milam, Wilson, Lee Means and Lamar — as well as the World Language Academy at Vernon Middle School.
Each school — and each class — seeks to pair native English speakers with English learners so they can learn from each other. Educators start the process immediately, in pre-kindergarten.
The dual language program uses the Gómez and Gómez Dual Language Enrichment model, said Norma Garcia, multi-language director for the program. Garcia said the model is very “prescriptive and specific” per grade level.
“It starts off in pre-kinder, kinder and first grade and really takes the English language learner and the English proficient child and says, ‘OK, your home language for our English learners is Spanish and it’s English for children who speak English at home,’” she said. “It really builds on that language when they walk into our campuses.”
Children in Denise Rodriguez’s first grade class at Sam Houston were working on math, one subject which is always taught in English. They learn science and social studies in Spanish, and phonics in their first language, Rodriguez said.
“It’s going very well,” Rodriguez said. “We alternate the days.”
Friday was Spanish day, as are Mondays and Wednesdays. That’s when Rodriguez uses simple cards to teach such things as the proper way to pronounce the “zapatos,” “calabaza” and “azul,” — shoes, pumpkin and blue, respectively.
“It’s to learn the S and the Z, because it’s almost the same,” she said.
The district set to work almost 10 years ago developing a dual language program, Garcia said.
“Before my time here, the district took a whole year to plan and to study the different types of programs for dual language,” she said. “The design team visited different programs and districts who were already offering dual language. When I came in, my job was to look at the decisions they had made and board approved already.”
On Spanish days like Friday, teachers speak to students in small phrases such as “caminando este lado” — walking this side.
“We honor the language of the day,” said Victoria Manning, assistant principal at Sam Houston.
The program, now in its seventh year, has enjoyed obvious success. Students who continue with the program throughout elementary school will already have a Spanish I credit when they enter sixth grade.
“We had a group of students start in pre-K and now they are sixth graders,” she aid. “That group of sixth graders can now go to World Languages Academy.”
The World Languages Academy opened last fall and offers Spanish as well as French, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language.
“If they continue at the World Languages Academy they can get another Spanish credit,” Manning said.
Enrollment in a dual language class is voluntary, and Kymberly Martinez, 11, wanted to attend a regular second grade class — but then her grandmother spoke up.
“No, go to dual language, you can get a better job,” she told Kymberly. And so it was. Now she has the “bilingual” tool to leverage for just about any endeavor, including conversations.
“When I am at home, me and my grandmother like to talk in private in Spanish,” she said. “Everybody else speaks English.”
Meanwhile down another hall Vanessa Juarez was reading a book about dinosaurs to her kindergartners, many of whom had a toy dinosaur for a “hands-on” approach to story telling. And on the walls, Days of the Week and Days of the Month in English and Spanish.