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Education

West Chicago District 33 expands bilingual offerings

Gary Elementary School fifth grade dual language teacher Paul Reyes works with his students on reading comprehension. West Chicago Elementary School District 33 is expanding its dual language program this fall.
Gary Elementary School fifth grade dual language teacher Paul Reyes works with his students on reading comprehension. West Chicago Elementary School District 33 is expanding its dual language program this fall.

WEST CHICAGO – In an effort to see higher student achievement, West Chicago Elementary School District 33 is shifting from a transitional bilingual education program to a dual language education program.

The main difference between the two is the goals of the programs, according to Assistant Superintendent for Learning Kristina Davis. The transitional bilingual model is only for Spanish speakers, and the goal is to subtract a student's Spanish-speaking abilities in order for he or she to learn English. With a dual language model, the goal is additive, meaning students learn both English and Spanish, while keeping their first language.

"The dual language education program produces a more postive outcome, as it is an additive model, meaning that students can learn both English and Spanish, versus the transitional program, which only allows students to pick up the new language, while losing their first language," Davis said. "The transitional bilingual education program focuses only on learning English and assimilating to American culture, while the dual program promotes multicultural understandings."

Within the district, it is required that schools implement a bilingual program if there are 20 or more Spanish-speaking students, according to Davis. Seventy-five percent of the district is Hispanic, and the transitional bilingual education program is present in the majority of district elementary schools, serving about 2,400 students.

Gary Elementary is the only school using a dual language education program.

"We clearly see higher levels of achievement of those in the dual model versus those in the transitional model," Davis said. "The English speakers outperform those in the transitional bilingual program and the Spanish speakers pass the English proficiency test, while being proficient in both Spanish and English. The dual program has a higher prestige, better reputation and is a very developmental program."

There are about 700 students in Gary's dual program, according to Davis, with Spanish and English speakers divided evenly, in classrooms together.

Gary had a surplus of applications from Spanish speakers, so much so that the school had to reject a number of students from the program. As a result, in May 2014, about 100 parents came to a Board of Education meeting, asking for more opportunities for their Spanish-speaking children, according to board President Brenda Vishanoff.

"We're thrilled that parents are showing so much interest in this dual program, and we took it upon ourselves to accomodate to their needs," she said.

Due to the demand for the dual program, the district will expand it this fall, creating additional slots in all elementary schools for Spanish speakers in kindergarten to second grade. Unlike Gary's two-way dual program, the expansion will feature a one-way dual language model, as it is only being offered to Spanish-speaking students, according to Davis.

"Our highest priority is student achievement, so over time we would love to see more English speakers interested to have two-way dual language programs," Davis said.

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