“Buenos dias. ?Como estan todos?”
Angel Rivera, the new principal at Pioneer Elementary School in West Chicago, greeted students and parents in both English and Spanish on Wednesday, the first day of school.
He passed through the halls, tossing out “hello” and “hola” to children, and directing parents and students through the building.
“Parents were asking me questions and I was directing them in Spanish,” Rivera said. “It was quite a job.”
Rivera, 47, is the first bilingual principal in West Chicago Elementary District 33. An Elgin resident, Rivera comes to Pioneer from Clifford I. Johnson Elementary School in East Aurora District 131, where about 60 percent of the children are Hispanic.
About one-third of the children in District 33 are Hispanic and about 40 percent of the 530 students at Pioneer are in bilingual classes.
On one day last week, Rivera stopped in on a class of Spanish-speaking first-graders who told him the story of “The Cow Who Said Oink.”
Samuel Guerrero, 6, explained that the cow said “oink” because he thought he was a pig. Later he learned how to say “moo” and “oink.”
“So he became bilingual,” Rivera told Samuel in Spanish. “One day you will be bilingual, too. You’ll be able to speak English and Spanish.”
Eric Godoy, sixth-grade bilingual teacher, said he’s seen that students feel comfortable with their new principal.
“Having Mr. Rivera here is a big plus,” Godoy said. “There’s no more language barrier between the principal and students.”
Julie Michalak, first-grade bilingual teacher, said Rivera wants to improve children’s reading skills by offering a reading incentive program in the lower grades.
The program, called “Accelerated Reader,” allows children to read books, take tests in a workbook and receive rewards for completing books.
Rivera is talking with parents and teachers to prioritize goals for the year.
He said Hispanic parents have asked that the school require kids to wear uniforms. Such a policy would have to be approved by the school board.
Rivera also said he also wants to learn school traditions and make slow changes to improve curriculum.
“I’m going to sit back, listen and learn as much as possible,” Rivera said.