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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Spanish program es grande exito

It’s hard to move the needle at a diverse, lower performing school with high poverty.

Bruce Drysdale Elementary School has found a way with an innovative Spanish immersion program that has improved test scores and created a cohort of schoolchildren moving toward graduation with a powerful asset.
The story in last week’s Hendersonville Lightning by our Hendersonville High School intern, Taylor Wright, described the program that has made Bruce Drysdale something of a star. The program’s roots go back five years, when school leaders and administrators looked at other Spanish immersion programs in Southern California and in North Carolina. Setting aside their first instinct to wade in with a half-and-half approach, school leaders decided instead to take the plunge. Now in its fourth year, the program features classes taught all in Spanish. Testing, which is in English, has improved for both native-English and native-Spanish speakers.
“Kids in the dual-language classes are outperforming other kids in the non-dual-language classes in academics,” says Dr. Christine Smith, the school’s principal. “The research said that would happen, and it has. The kids in dual-language class are developing deeper thinking skills; again the research said that would happen because it’s growing the brain dendrites more than monolingual folks. So your brain doesn’t expand, it develops neurotransmitters that weren’t there or that wouldn’t have ordinarily been there. These kids are really good thinkers generally compared to the non-dual-language folks.”
Smith has proven to be an intuitive and adaptive guide for the program.
“We were originally teaching our kids like we, English-speaking Americans, learned to teach kids how to read,” she says. “Then I started hiring all these international teachers who taught children how to read with methods they learned in their native countries, well, it’s very different. … They’ve kind of revolutionized our curriculum and the delivery of our curriculum to put an emphasis on sentence structure and masculine and feminine, which we don’t have in English.”
Now, with seven international teachers at Bruce Drysdale from five Spanish-speaking countries, the teacher’s lounge sometimes sounds like a confab of Latin American nations.
“They all talk at once, and they say ‘Is that how you say that word in your country? We don’t even have that word in our country’ — because their dialects are different and their word choices are different,” Smith says.
As important as the academic achievement is the cultural assimilation. Latino kids are suddenly much in demand as mentors to their native-English speaking peers.
“They have friendships,” Smith says. “They invite each other over to their houses. … These kids have been having sleepovers, their parents talk, it’s broken down the boundaries with those families.”
The school system is wisely making plans to make sure the schoolchildren sustain their written and conversational Spanish through middle school and high school. When they get their diplomas in 2025, the Spanish immersion kids from Bruce Drysdale will own a marketable asset that their competition won’t have.