Learning in dos languages

Kindergartners in Grapevine study in Spanish, English in bilingual class

GRAPEVINE – Alondra and Ana Karen Monroy, kindergarten sisters who chatter nonstop in Spanish, want to learn English pronto.

“It’s so pretty,” Ana Karen, 5, says.

Alondra, 6, says, “Yes, it’s so pretty!”

But the road to learning a second, more pervasive language can be treacherous. The new language, often perceived as the more attractive, can knock out the first.

That is exactly what the girls’ teacher, Marcy Lykins, aims to avoid.

“I worry about them wanting to learn English too fast,” Lykins said. “Sometimes they don’t realize the importance of knowing both really well.”

Lykins’ bilingual classroom at Timberline Elementary School is one of two in the Grapevine-Colleyville district. The district started the program this year because the number of Spanish-speaking students in the district is increasing.

According to Texas Education Agency rules, public school districts must provide a bilingual program if they have 20 or more students who speak a common language other than English. The intent is to keep students speaking both languages.

In Northeast Tarrant County, the Birdville and Hurst-Euless-Bedford districts have had bilingual programs for several years. In Birdville, 887 students are enrolled in bilingual programs.

H-E-B has 224 students.

At the beginning of the Grapevine-Colleyville school year, students who could not speak English were tested for Spanish fluency. If they tested as Spanish speakers, they were enrolled in the bilingual program, which also has a class at W.F. Cannon Elementary School in Grapevine.

The program has 41 students, said Judy Brooks, district director for student support services.

Parents who did not want their children in the program can place their children in English as a second language classes or in regular classes, officials said.

The district’s Education Foundation donated about $4,000 for books and supplies for both English as a second language and bilingual programs.

“We wanted to fill that need,” Brooks said.

The goal in Lykins’ 19-student kindergarten classroom is simultaneous bilingual education.

The premise is that children who develop a strong base and a rich vocabulary in Spanish will be able to more easily transfer sounds and vocabulary into English, Lykins said. The result should be a bilingual child.

“By the time they are teen-agers in high school, the Hispanic kids are going to be the majority in the state of Texas, and there’s going to be such a big need for them to know both languages,” Lykins said.

In bilingual classrooms in many other districts, Spanish is initially dominant, but as students become more fluent in English, they speak their native language less.

Many of Lykins’ students have been in English-only pre-kindergarten, so she is taking advantage of that.

She often cues them in both languages. In a lesson on the days of the week, she says the names in English and Spanish.

One goal is to build up Spanish vocabulary and knowledge. That way, the students will read quicker. The second goal is to show them that they can perform in English.

On a Tuesday morning at Timberline Elementary School, the youngsters are divided into small groups. In one, headed by teaching aide Wendy Kern, who fluently speaks Spanish, children print their names. In a second group, headed by Lykins, they practice the sound and the shape of the letter M and recite words that begin with it.

In Kern’s group, Ana Karen, after about 10 minutes, has carefully etched the names of her neighbors Carolina and Francisco on her sheet of paper, on which she also has drawn pictures. She holds the pencil firmly, and at age 5, is considered well down the path to reading and writing.

“I want to tell you that my father said if I learned a lot, he was going to take me to Alaska,” Ana Karen says in Spanish.

Why Alaska?


In Lykins’ group, Alondra and classmate Jennifer Segovia, 6, are cutting out an M, then pasting macaroni shells on them.

“I like to play and learn English. I read books in English and I read the alphabet and I learn maps and to play and to listen to my teacher and to pay attention,” Alondra says in Spanish in one breath.

About 10 minutes later, the students are gathered on the floor in front of their teacher, who has a plastic dinosaur on an index finger. She points at them with her dedo extraterrestre, or her extraterrestrial finger. Each time she points at them, they sing to her.

She promises that she has ordered on the Internet one plastic green finger for each of her students. That way, they can use the finger to point to words when they are reading, she says.

The students giggle and clap.

After a song, the youngsters go to recess.

Alondra and Ana Karen stay behind to talk about their Halloween costumes.

“Reina,” Ana Karen says of her queen costume.

“Y ella va ser una bruja,” she adds of her sister, who will dress as a witch.

“Y mi Papi,” she said of her father. ” El va ser un diablo” – he’s going to be a devil.

Yamil Berard, (817) 685-3813 [email protected]

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