NOVATO (KPIX) – The discussion about bilingual education has always been about how to teach English to Spanish-speaking kids. But at Lynwood Elementary School in Novato, they’ve completely flipped that script.
About half the kids in Jasmine Suttles’s second grade class came to the school speaking only Spanish. But instead of forcing them to study in English, Suttles uses an opposite approach.
“Aqui tambien tenemos a otro nino…” she says to her class.
Lynwood is becoming a language-immersive school where only Spanish is spoken about 90 percent of the time. The principal, Melissa Diaz, says Spanish-speaking students get to use their native tongue in an academic setting and the English speakers learn a valuable second language.
“When they leave us, the goal is for them to be bilingual and bi-literate, which just gives them so many more advantages in the world,” she said.
The program began last year with Kindergarten through 1st grade. Seven-year old Sienna Fordley admits it was a little confusing, at first, but she’s been able to learn the language with amazing ease.
“It feels better because I know exactly what she’s saying,” she said. “It’s not like I really have to think about what she’s saying…like, I just know.”
The effect is, with help from each other, everyone is learning two languages at the same time. Eight-year old Willy Miranda, used to know only Spanish but now, after only a year-and-a-half, speaks English like a champ and understands how important that will be for his future.
“If I go to another place, I could speak to someone else,” he said, “and it would be much easier for me to understand what the other person’s saying.”
Lynwood is a public school and attending it is optional, but Shareen Barrett says she feels sorry for the parents who opted out, especially since her two kids, including a kindergartner, are picking up the language so easily.
“I don’t know, I think it’s their young brains absorb everything better than us and they pick it up so quick,” she said.
Lynwood is the first school in Marin to do this and a lot of thought went into it. The idea was first suggested 10 years ago. But now, after the first year-and-a-half, the school and parents seem pretty pleased with how thing have worked out.
The program will expand each year as the current second-graders progress through the school. By the time they reach fifth grade, it will be fully immersive and the students will graduate to middle school being fluent in two languages. And, as our society becomes ever more diverse, that ability may become as valuable as reading, writing and arithmetic.