Boca School Goes Bilingual

Teachers will speak Spanish in other classes

By the time this year’s Boca Raton Elementary kindergarteners, first- and second-graders leave for middle school, they will read and write in English and Spanish.

That’s the goal of a new bilingual program that will gear up when school starts this month.

”We’re not going to teach Spanish, we’re going to be teaching in Spanish,” said Principal Alan Goldstein.

Students will still learn all of their lessons in English, Goldstein explained. But for 240 minutes per week, teachers will reinforce science, social studies and music lessons with activities and experiments conducted solely in Spanish.

Because no new material will be taught in Spanish, a student who for some reason cannot grasp the language will not miss out on anything, Goldstein said. An aide will also be present to assist students who don’t catch on.

But Goldstein and teachers don’t anticipate problems, because young minds are so absorbent.

”They soak up whatever you give them,” said music teacher Elizabeth Gonzalez.

Each child has music twice a week for 40 minutes. Gonzalez, who is bilingual will teach one class in English and one in Spanish.

The bilingual program starts off with kindergarten, first and second grades this year, but an additional grade will be added every year until the program is school-wide, Goldstein said.

”I think it’s fantastic,” said outgoing Parent-Teacher Organization president and School Advisory Council member Rae McKenna. ”I only wish they had started it last year. My son will miss out.”

McKenna’s son, Sam Ellis, 8, will be in third grade. He will participate in an after-school Spanish club the school is starting so that older children who will miss the in-school program have a chance to learn some Spanish, too.

Goldstein, teachers and parents hope fluency in two languages will someday help students land jobs.

It worked for Karina Garcia, the first-year teacher who will teach the reinforcement classes in Spanish.

”If I wouldn’t have been bilingual, I wouldn’t have a job right now,” she said.

Research has also shown that students who learn another language perform better in all academic areas.

A bonus: When one class is working with Garcia, its regular teacher will assist in another classroom. That means for one period each day, students will enjoy a teacher/student ratio of approximately 1 to 13.

Of Boca Raton Elementary’s 340 students, roughly 100 speak a language other than English, and most of those are Spanish speakers.

The teachers say the Spanish-speaking children will be able to help English-speakers with the Spanish part of the day, and vice-versa.

And the Spanish lessons will be beneficial even to students who already speak Spanish. Many of those children are able to speak the language, but cannot read or write in it, Garcia said _ just as many English speakers are not proficient in reading and writing.

Some of the students speak neither English or Spanish.

Goldstein came up with the idea of a dual-language program, and started talking to his school’s advisory council nearly a year ago.

The teachers, parents, business and community people on the council overwhelmingly support this venture.

Two other district elementary schools, Gove and Northgrade, have dual-language programs. They are taught differently, however; the subjects that are taught in Spanish are not also taught in English.

Gove Elementary is a dual-language magnet, but Goldstein said Boca Elementary will remain a neighgorhood school.

At this point, the program is not costing the Boca school any more money than they would spend without it.

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