At Foster Dual Language PK-8 in Arvada, the new school year means more than navigating remote learning and COVID-19 procedures. 2020-2021 is the first academic year that the school will run as a dual …
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At Foster Dual Language PK-8 in Arvada, the new school year means more than navigating remote learning and COVID-19 procedures. 2020-2021 is the first academic year that the school will run as a dual language option school after receiving approval from the Board of Education last November.
Formerly a neighborhood school, Foster has had a dual language program since 2004, said principal Leigh Hiester. The program has served kindergarteners through sixth graders who would like to become bilingual and biliterate, assisting native English speakers in learning Spanish and native Spanish speakers in learning English.
Historically, and this year, about 50% of the program’s students have been native English speakers and 50%, native Spanish speakers.
“Starting our first year as a dual language option school and as a PK-8, this creates a new pathway for kids,” Hiester said. “I’m excited to see educationally what this year brings.”
Through the program, all students receive about 50% of their daily instruction in Spanish and 50% in English. For each subject, a teacher might teach that subject in English one day and Spanish the next; or, the teacher might teach the subject in English for several weeks before switching to Spanish, depending on the grade level.
“They’re just constantly assimilating that into their everyday routine,” said Kimberly Benage, who has four children who attend Foster.
The native English speakers have learned Spanish not only from class, but also through small interactions during the day, with staff speaking to them in Spanish during class activities or in the lunch line, she said.
“Life is happening in Spanish, it’s not just that you’re being taught Spanish,” she said. “Knowing what a challenge it was for me to learn Spanish in adulthood, I was hoping we could give that gift to our kids now. All our kids are really thriving in the environment there.”
With the majority of Foster students opting into the dual language program, Hiester said that over the past several years, she and the community sought ways to make students’ experiences even more beneficial. Namely, Hiester wanted to find a way to extend the program into students’ middle school years — previously, Foster only went up to the sixth grade.
“We tried to continue the program in various ways through different middle schools and it really just was a struggle,” Hiester said. “So we decided to go for it and do something that no other school in the history of Jeffco has done, going from a neighborhood to an option.”
Last year, Foster added a seventh-grade class. This year, in line with its transition to an option school, it has added an eighth-grade class as well.
Karla Hernandez, a parent who has one current Foster student and two Foster graduates, highlighted the importance of this switch, saying that local middle schools often only offer early-level Spanish classes. This previously left seventh-graders who graduated from Foster without any options for a Spanish class in which they could grow, Hernandez said.
The family just recently moved about 25 minutes away from the school, but Hernandez said she still has plans to keep her third-grader in the school.
“Even though I’m a native Spanish speaker, I wouldn’t be able to teach all the grammar rules they learn from Foster,” she said. “And also, we feel like family there. As a Spanish mom, I feel very comfortable with all of the other parents. The English speakers have always wanted to learn about the culture and vice versa.”
As it transitions into being a full dual language school, 2020-2021 will be the last year in which Foster holds courses for students that are taught exclusively in English. This year, Hiester estimated that about 30 students are learning in English only at Foster.
By 2021-2022, all students will be on a dual language track. Though Foster is now an option school, the plan is for students in the Foster neighborhood to have enrollment priority.
The coronavirus pandemic has certainly thrown new challenges into the execution of the dual language program, Hiester added. Being part of the program is a different experience in a remote environment, in which 100% of students will engage until Sept. 8, she said.
Even after Sept. 8, about 20% of Foster students will continue to learn remotely, Hiester estimated. The number could rise back to 100% if a second wave of COVID-19 closes school buildings.
“We’ve had to problem-solve on how we address English needs while a family cannot support a student’s English needs at home, and the converse of that,” Hiester said. “We’re really pushing to make sure that families are getting used to our learning management system. My staff really rose to the occasion and I’m very proud of them.”
Hiester added that even with the new challenges the coronavirus has created, the school believes it can execute its dual language model as planned.
With the school’s big change underway, Hiester said she looks forward to seeing the effects of the leap the community has taken.
“In schools where it’s just dual language, you have the ability to elevate Spanish to a different level. For example, you can just do announcements in Spanish,” she said. “It helps with the focus of the school so we’re all working toward the same goals.”
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