HURST – In one room of Shady Oaks Elementary School, teacher Laura Salazar’s first-grade students take out their language arts books and start reading the story, “La rana, el sapo, el topo y el pato.”
Later that day, they will learn about the seasons in English.
In Marlene Spurgeon’s room, students have two math books on their desks, one in English and one in Spanish. When the class discusses a problem written on the blackboard, two students explain it in both languages.
Some 160 of the school’s 594 students are in bilingual classrooms, and 35 percent are from a low socioeconomic group. Plaques in the front hallway name Shady Oaks as an “exemplary” school.
It has not only earned the highest ranking given by the Texas Education Association for student TAAS scores, but it was also named a five-star school by Texas Monthly.
Administrators credit the high scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills to many factors, including parental involvement and close work with their students.
“We work hard with students,” Principal Bea Cantu said.
Livia Mansour, assistant principal, said, “It takes a lot of preparation, individual instruction.”
Retired teachers, volunteers from the Adopt-A-School program and students from L.D. Bell High School tutor the elementary students. The students take a TAAS release test – an old TAAS that has been released to schools for practice – every six weeks, in either English or Spanish.
“If they feel successful then, boy, they want to try harder,” Cantu said, noting that some students want to stay in during their breaks and lunch to study.
The school, which has had the bilingual education program for five years, also has strong communication with parents, often contacting them one by one. Teachers use newsletters to inform parents about curricula. They also had a meeting last year with parents, asking them not to move their families. The families stayed.
“Not only that, but we grew about 60 percent,” Spurgeon said.
The results of all this work have meant a 100 percent passing rate of third-grade students in the math and reading portions of the test. In the fourth grade, 98 percent passed those portions. The Texas Monthly five-star ranking, featured in the November issue, meant that Shady Oaks Elementary School belonged in the top 20 percent of schools in comparison to other schools with the same number of disadvantaged students.
The school’s success has come as bilingual education is being debated nationwide. Arizona and California recently banned bilingual education, although some school districts have the option of teaching it.
The Hurst-Euless-Bedford district has three bilingual schools, although Shady Oaks is the only one with a full program. Students from other district elementary schools are bused to Shady Oaks to participate.
When they go to junior high school, students usually go to English as a second language programs to continue their bilingual education. Some students also enter the gifted and talented program. Cantu said her goal is for the students to earn high school and college degrees.
The educators said they have succeeded because parents know they want their children to succeed while maintaining their heritage.
“They know we value their language, their culture,” Mansour said.
Jessica DeLeon, (817) 685-3932