In an age where bilingual education programs are under attack, administrators at Albuquerque’s Dolores Gonzales Elementary School are planning a massive expansion of a program aimed at making students literate in two languages.
And they will have $1.2 million in federal funds to help them along the way.
The grant, which was announced this week, could make the school’s bilingual education program the most sophisticated in the state. The expansion also runs contrary to a recent lawsuit that seeks to eliminate all bilingual programs within Albuquerque Public Schools.
“Not only are we confident in bilingual education programs, but we know it is working and see the results,” said Dora Ortiz, Dolores Gonzales principal.
The school already ranks among fewer than 200 in the nation that offer a two-way bilingual program.
Under the two-way approach, students who speak only Spanish are placed in the same class as those whose native language is English. By dividing class time evenly between the two languages, educators seek to make all students biliterate.
Currently, 140 of the school’s students participate in such classes.
But with the help of the five-year grant, the school hopes to double the number of two-way classrooms from seven to 14 by next year.
The money also could help create two-way sixth-grade classes at Washington Middle School, the school most Dolores Gonzales students will ultimately attend.
Other improvements planned with the grant money include:
* The hiring of a bilingual coordinator at the school. The administrator would conduct a detailed computer analysis of student performance and provide training for teachers.
Critics say a lack of program coordinators at most APS schools has led to disorganized bilingual programs and made it impossible to verify how well students in such classes are doing.
* The addition of a technology coordinator to provide more class time using two-language software programs.
* The creation of literacy and language classes for parents and family members at the school.
Parents can enroll in 12-week language courses in Spanish or English. Other classes will teach adult literacy and parenting skills.
“If the family buys into this program, it will improve the entire school,” said David Rogers, who helped design the school’s two-way program and now works as an APS administrator.
Dolores Gonzales is one of five two-way bilingual schools in the state. Others include Longfellow Elementary in Albuquerque, MacArthur Elementary in Las Cruces, La Union Elementary in Anthony and La Mesa Elementary in Gadsden.
The program at Dolores Gonzales began four years ago with only a kindergarten class. Each year an additional grade was added, and next year will mark the first time that students in all grades can participate.
Dolores Gonzales has the highest poverty rate of any APS school, and standardized test scores are far lower than the district average for fourth graders. Students at the school ranked in the 36th percentile nationally, compared to the APS average score of 59.
Students in Dolores Gonzales’ two-way programs were too young to take the standardized exam last year.