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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Learning Ways To Teach Language

By Lois K. Solomon

January 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

DELRAY BEACH · Like almost half of the students at Plumosa Elementary School, Lee Michael Duran hears a language other than English spoken at home every day.

But next year, Michael, whose family speaks Spanish, could be hearing more of his native language at school.

Plumosa wants to capitalize on its student body's multi-lingualism by teaching major subjects -- such as science and social studies -- in both English and a foreign language next year.

Plumosa would join a growing number of Palm Beach County schools starting dual-language programs. School officials say they have been convinced by research that learning core subjects in a foreign language benefits not only students from other countries but also native English speakers.

"Why do it like we did it when I was a kid, which is learn a foreign language in high school," Principal Sandra Byrne said.

"It will be an asset for everybody all the way around. If they already know the language, they will improve their skills. If they learn it for the first time, they'll become fluent."

Studies have shown that dual-language immersion is more effective than transitional bilingual education, in which students are temporarily placed in classes with other non-English speakers until they speak English well enough to enter a regular classroom.

More than 18,000 Palm Beach County students are enrolled in these transitional programs, including 9,000 Spanish speakers and 6,000 speakers of Haitian Creole.

The most comprehensive study on dual-language, conducted by researchers at George Mason University, found that Spanish speakers performed at or above grade level on many standardized tests when they learned major subjects in English and in their native language.

Bolstering the study's findings, the five Palm Beach County elementary schools who taught core subjects in Spanish and English all received A grades from the state last year. A sixth, Freedom Shores Elementary in Boynton Beach, opened this year and teaches Spanish to its kindergartners, who will continue their Spanish studies in each grade as they get older.

Morikami Park Elementary west of Delray Beach, a pre-International Baccalaureate magnet school, also teaches Spanish and French to its students, although not in core subjects. It rated an A from the state last year.

Byrne used to work at Morikami Park and saw how enthusiastic the students were about their language skills. At Plumosa, about half the school's population speaks Spanish or Creole as a first language.

Michael, 11, said his foreign-language skills would benefit if they were reinforced at school each day.

"My parents speak Spanish, but I don't understand them," he said.

Fifth-grader Clermond Cemoin speaks Creole at home but wants to learn French and Spanish.

"I can translate for people and be an interpreter at meetings and get paid for it," he said.

Byrne is searching for an educator who can not only teach specialties such as science in Spanish or French, but who also has the right credentials to teach the school's 25 gifted students.

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