Unconventional bilingual program tried in New Mexico

DEMING, N.M. – Seven-year-old Alex Pagano, who did not know a word of Spanish last August, now insists on being called “Alejandro.”

His classmate, 6-year-old Sergio Uribe, holds his fingers an inch apart when asked how much English he knew back then.

Today the two boys, enrolled in the two-way language program at Martin Elementary School, are able to communicate with each other in both languages.

“Yo tengo tres amigos,” Pagano reads from a school book. Uribe listens and repeats the phrase in perfect English, “I have three friends.”

Unlike traditional bilingual programs, where non-English speaking students attend classes taught only in Spanish, Martin’s two-way language program targets all students regardless of first language.

“The goal of the program is for students to achieve two languages,” Martin Elementary Principal Jose Carrillo said. “That by the time they get to fifth grade, they will be bilingual and biliterate.”

The program, which was implemented last semester, is currently offered to kindergartners and first-graders, Carrillo said. But each year, another grade level will be added to the program until it is eventually offered for students through fifth grade, Carrillo said.

The 80 children enrolled in the program are divided equally into three categories.

“One-third come from English speaking backgrounds, one-third come from Spanish speaking backgrounds and one-third come from homes where both English and Spanish are spoken,” he said.

Pagano, who has blond hair and blue eyes, falls under the monolingual English category. Uribe, who has dark skin and black hair, falls under the monolingual Spanish category, Carrillo said.

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