The Dual Language International Spanish Academy Program at New Horizons Elementary School in Wellington educates students to become fully bilingual, biliterate and bicultural.
According to Principal Dana Pallaria, the dual-language program at New Horizons allows her students to reach the high standards that are necessary for becoming productive members of the community.
The dual language program at New Horizons has been in place for 15 years. The program partners with the Department of Education in Spain. With this partnership, New Horizons has become an international academy. This means that the school receives resources by way of visiting teachers from Spain, who come to the United States for three years to teach not only the Spanish language, but also the culture of their home country.
New Horizons was the first of three schools in Palm Beach County to receive this accreditation. For half the day, students receive education in English, while they learn in Spanish the other half.
“At New Horizons, we have approximately 675 students,” Pallaria said. “Approximately 450 students are in the International Spanish Academy in kindergarten through fifth grade. It is a full-immersion program. The students learn English and Spanish in both reading and science.
There are multiple benefits to a dual-language program, she explained.
“The reason we see it as being so important is that our students have the opportunity to excel in a foreign language,” Pallaria said. “The research shows that early entry into the International Spanish Academy, or any [foreign] language, produces very high SAT scores, which gives our students the benefit of getting into college. It increases listening skills, memory skills, and they have greater cognitive development.”
Aside from educational benefits, there are many other positive outcomes.
“It gives the student a multicultural appreciation, and they become bilingual at an early age,” Pallaria said. “It also opens up opportunities for careers in their future. Graduates from the International Spanish Academy in Palm Beach County will receive a diploma from Spain, as well as one in the United States, when they complete their high school education.”
The program is aimed at both English-speaking students and those who are from bilingual homes.
“We tell our families that [the programs] support their home language, it values their culture, it values other cultures, especially for our students who are English-speaking, and are in the program to learn Spanish,” Pallaria said. “The program increases their vocabulary and their ability to communicate with more people in the community.”
There are approximately 60 teachers at New Horizons, and 24 are certified to teach the dual-language program. The teachers must pass a language assessment, be certified, and be able to teach reading and science in both languages. Each teacher is responsible for two core subject areas.
Once a student enters the dual-language program in elementary school, they usually continue their dual-language education in middle school and high school.
New Horizons language coach Melissa Arcos explained a normal day in a student’s education. “Typically, a student will start their day on the English side,” Arcos said. “They will receive instruction in reading, writing and math. The students break for lunch, and then switch to go back to learn in their Spanish class. They will receive instruction for reading, writing, science and social studies, but in Spanish.”
In this way, it is a full-immersion program. “When they are in the Spanish classroom, the student will only hear Spanish. The teacher will communicate in Spanish only,” Arcos said. “All of the resources she uses will be in Spanish, as well.”
It is important for a dual-language program to begin early in a student’s education. It is best for a student to be enrolled in kindergarten, but a first or second grader still has a window of time to participate.
“We start as early as kindergarten,” Arcos said. “But we do encourage parents, because it is such a wonderful gift to give our kids, even if they are in first or second grade, it is not too late. By the time we hit third grade, we would have to evaluate the student, because at that point, we are expecting the language to be established, so that we can focus now, not on acquiring the language, but learning with that language.”
Teachers in the dual-language program at New Horizons are from all over the world, including Spain, Puerto Rico, Columbia, Venezuela and Mexico.
“All of the mix of cultures represents a different aspect of learning for our students,” Arcos explained. “We are actually teaching the children to listen to it and understand it, so they will eventually start trying it. It’s not a formal language class, like this is how you write a sentence or spell. We are actually teaching the student to listen to the language and pay attention to it, slowly acquiring the understanding.”
Communication can be difficult when visiting another culture. If there are no language skills to communicate, one is forced into having to find a way to speak. “With children, we are tactful, because we don’t want to cause any kind of frustration,” Arcos explained. “This is the beautiful thing about doing this at the elementary stage, where we can use videos and music, where teachers can be silly and act out what they are trying to communicate.”
The lessons are not repeated in a dual-language program. For instance, the student who receives lesson one in English, will move to lesson two in Spanish. They are not receiving the same lesson in both languages. Learning the language this way represents a challenge for the student.
“Students must keep up with what’s happening,” Arcos said. “This is where it is extremely important that both the English and Spanish teachers communicate. This is why we refer to them as partnerships, because they need to communicate what students are struggling with when having difficulty understanding the lessons.”
For those students learning Spanish, the teacher is going to have to give more support in English, Arcos noted, while for those learning English, the Spanish teacher will have to give more support in Spanish. “Our students are also a great tool,” Arcos said. “They are strategically put together so that an English speaker can help a Spanish speaker in English, and vice versa.”
To learn more about the Dual Language International Spanish Academy, call (561) 651-0500.