MODESTO -- Dual-language programs have won over parents by creating strong family connections and academic excellence.
Von Renner Elementary in Newman will be the next area school to teach youngsters in Spanish and in English, starting kindergartners in August with the goal of being well-educated in both.
In 2013-14, Ceres Unified plans to open its newest school, Lucas Elementary, as a dual-language school.
Both districts said the research was solid, but a push for the program by parents was what made up their minds.
"We've had a lot of community requests and we're going to see how it goes," said Ceres Associate Superintendent Jay Simmonds. The district's research convinced administrators and trustees the program was solid, he said.
"We live in such a multicultural world," he said. "It would be a benefit to everyone to have these skills."
Parents see opportunities
Von Renner Principal Alice Solis said strong community interest led the Newman-Crows Landing Unified district to do a survey of elementary school parents and hold information sessions. The verdict was clear, she said: Parents wanted this choice for their children.
"We had a lot of feedback from English (speaking) parents. They saw it as a job skill, that it would open up some opportunities, not only locally but internationally," Solis said.
Her research shows the program is the best one for English learners because it gives them a strong foundation in both languages. More than half the district's students start out as English learners. "We're really excited," she said.
School board member Paul Wallace said developing the program was a good step for Newman families. "I think being bilingual is a valuable accomplishment for our students," he said.
In Modesto City Schools, where a dual-language program is starting its third year at Bret Harte and Fairview elementaries, parents are counseled before they enter the program, said administrator Melanie McCleary.
"We want parents to understand that they're selecting this program. Bilingual and biliteracy you're not going to reach that in one year or by the end of September," McCleary said.
Strong parent cadres formed at both schools, giving dual-language classes a steady stream of volunteer helpers starting Day One.
In Turlock, Osborn Two-Way Dual Immersion Academy became an all-school program in 2010 after dec- ades as a program in a regular neighborhood school, in part because of an ever-growing waiting list of families wanting to get into the program.
Turlock Superintendent Sonny Da Marto said students at its dual-language magnet school meet or exceed the achievement goals at its other schools.
In Livingston, families in every neighborhood can join the Dual Language Academy, which offers classes at three elementary schools and the middle school, said Assistant Superintendent Robin Hopper. The district considered having just one school, "but none of our parents wanted to give it up," she said.
The multicampus model ensures there are bilingual teachers at every campus to help communicate with Spanish-speaking families who stay in English-only classes, Hopper said.
At Grayson Charter, a dual-language school in Westley run by the Patterson Joint Unified district, family services helped the school overcome poverty and language barriers. In four years, the school turned around from among the lowest-scoring schools in the county to topping the state goal for all schools, a nearly 400-point jump.
The school's holistic approach "is one of our best models in Stanislaus County of professional development and support systems," said Maria Rosales, community services coordinator for Patterson Joint Unified.
The family resource center on campus got a three-year grant from the Toyota Family Literacy Program, creating a novel program where families pitch in together to learn.
Mom Teresa Rangel of Grayson said her then-first-grader was having problems in school, especially in math, when she joined the program.
"They're teaching one way and I'm teaching a different way. That was a struggle for me," Rangel said. As part of the program, she sat next to her son for a few lessons and learned how the teacher wanted him to do his work.
Rosales said parents learn more than how to help with a lesson by watching how teachers manage their class. Quick to praise and consistent with discipline, teachers give lessons on family management as well.
Fourth-grade teacher Ernesto Calderon said he had to pass a high bar to teach at Grayson. Certified as a bilingual teacher, he had to demonstrate teaching a lesson in Spanish and convince interviewers he was a good fit for the program.
Now in his third year, he compares the progress each year of children whose parents join the program with the progress of children who start at a similar level whose parents do not.
"Students that have parents in the program always tend to do a lot better," Calderon said.
Through the year, Rangel and her son read the same dinosaur books and took the same Accelerated Reader test for points. "My son would ask, 'Did you read a book? Did you take the test? What was your score?' He started seeing me reading a book and he'd do that, too," she said.
Rangel said she started picking slightly harder books each time. Her son will start third grade in a few weeks as a strong reader. She'll be back on campus as well, to see friends from last year and offer her own bilingual skills to help other parents.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.
STATEWIDE: There are more than 300 dual-language programs in California. Most offer Spanish, but other languages include Mandarin Chinese, Armenian, Korean, Japanese, Italian and German. All programs in this area are Spanish-English.
HILMAR: Elim Elementary and Hilmar Middle School offer a dual-language program.
LIVINGSTON: Livingston Union School District has a dual-language program in all its elementary schools, serving more than 800 of the district's 2,500 students.
MODESTO: Programs at Bret Harte and Fairview elementary schools will start their third year with two classes each in kindergarten and first grade, adding second grade.
PATTERSON: Grayson Charter has been an entirely dual-language school for a decade. It will add an English-Spanish preschool program this year, leading into to its kindergarten-through-fifth-grade lineup. Walnut Grove School is adding third-grade classes this year, expanding a dual-language program that will serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
RIVERBANK: Riverbank Language Academy is an all-dual-language school, serving kindergarten through eighth grade.
TURLOCK: Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy became a magnet school in fall 2010. The dual-language program was implemented as part of the Osborn campus in 1993.
INFORMATION: Livingston offers a list of resources on its Dual Language Academy Web page, www.lusd.k12.ca.us/District/20653-Dual-Language-Academy.html.
Source: School districts listed above and the California Department of Education