Faculty and students at UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education help first group of bilingual learners graduate from local elementary school
Time flies when you’re having funespecially when you are immersed in a second language.
In May, several fifth-grade students at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School will become the first students to graduate from the school’s Bilingual Language Immersion (DLI) program, a program they originally enrolled in as as kindergarten students.
Oglethorpe Avenue’s DLI program is the first and only Spanish-English language immersion program in Athens. Originally developed as an after-school offering, the program – which was created in part by clinical associate professor Lou Tolosa-Casadont – quickly evolved into a full-fledged school program.
“My inspiration for the IDD program came from many sources,” said Tolosa-Casadont, who teaches in the language and literacy education department at Mary Frances Early College of Education. “First, my desire to impact learners in the Clarke County School District by providing free language lessons, as well as my own experience as a teacher and language learner. My experiences working in past immersion contexts have helped me understand how powerful these experiences can be for learners. »
Launch of a collaborative program
Under the guidance of former CCDS superintendent Philip Lanoue and with the support of former school principal Scarlett Dunne, educational coach Marilyn Murphy and a team of staff and teachers, Tolosa-Casadont has launched the program in 2015, adding two new teachers and classes to the next grade level each subsequent year.
“From the moment we learned that OAES was going to launch a DLI program, we did not hesitate to sign up [our son] Max in it,” said CCSD parent Viviana Paez. “Even though his first language is Spanish, and at home as a family we speak Spanish, we knew it was important for him to study both languages simultaneously.”
To meet demand, the program—which recruits a balance of native English speakers and native and native Spanish speakers—has also hired several UGA-graduated paraprofessionals and assistants to provide additional classroom support.
During the first four years of the program, Tolosa-Casadont provided job-embedded professional development for IDD teachers in every classroom, while simultaneously supporting parents, students, and school administrators involved in the program. .
As IDD classrooms grew, she added other components, such as teacher support for assessments and individual and small group work for students to support a variety of their interests and needs.
Students in the DLI program spend at least half the day at school learning content in Spanish using typical lessons for their grade level in a variety of subjects, including math and science, with the added value of have time in English and Spanish. Georgia’s Standards of Excellence are applied to programs, and teachers at all levels come together to collaborate and plan lessons.
Six years later, families continue to be interested in the program, which has a waiting list and is growing exponentially through the use of language, songs, celebrations and literacy. Some English-speaking families have even chosen to keep their children back a year, so that they can take advantage of the bilingual program.
“Being able to communicate with a diverse group of people is one of the most important aspects of being able to live a full life dedicated to creating a better society,” said Jemelleh Coes, whose daughter Gabby attends the program. DLI. “I wanted Gabby to have so many tools at her disposal to serve the community. Another element that interested us was to acquire a deep and direct appreciation of other cultures and peoples.
Immersive learning for students
By promoting the program in the community and educating parents about the many benefits of bilingualism/multilingualism, Tolosa-Casadont and her team were able to recruit a balance of interested Spanish and English speaking families to support the program.
“Children and families who have participated in this program have enriched their public school experience, as well as their understanding of the world around them,” Tolosa-Casadont said. “Being bilingual and bicultural is more than just knowing a language and how to act within one or more specific cultures – it means understanding yourself and others and becoming more compassionate and empathetic towards the needs of others.”
In addition to providing an immersive learning experience for students, Oglethorpe Avenue also offers undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to teach, observe, and give back to the school community by not only teaching Spanish and English, but other languages that are not taught in school.
Doctoral students who receive a 20-hour teaching assistantship through the DLI program can write their dissertation on a specific aspect of the program, while providing support to teachers, learners, support staff and administrators.
For Tolosa-Casadont, the most rewarding part of working with the program is watching the children grow and succeed in the language year after year.
“Programs like this have an incredibly positive and powerful impact on children and their families,” she said. “Like a pebble tossed into water, its beneficial ripple effects continue to extend many years after these children and their families leave the program.”