"No child has to lose a language to learn another language."
That's the philosophy of Elgin Area School District U-46's dual language program, which started last year, offering students a chance to strive for bilingualism instead of merely English proficiency.
Wilma Valero started with the district 23 years ago as a kindergarten bilingual teacher, then she became a reading coach, a program coordinator and now director of the U-46 English Language Learners Department, which includes English as a Second Language classes, Bilingual Education and Dual Language programs.
Long-term studies show that Dual Language is the only category of the three that can close the achievement gap for students who come to school dominant in a language other than English. Beyond that, dual language instruction offers a chance for young English speakers to learn a second language alongside their Spanish-speaking peers during their elementary years.
"When the students work in collaboration, you are learning my language and culture, I am learning your language and culture and we are empowering each other in this global society," Valero said.
Besides creating students who are capable of speaking both languages, Valero said Dual Language focuses on reading and writing ability in both languages as well as fostering cultural understanding among diverse groups of students.
In traditional bilingual education, students start off getting 80 percent of their instruction in their first language -- Spanish, in U-46 -- with the goal of flipping the ratio by the time they age out of the program.
The goal of Dual Language, though, is to achieve 50/50 instruction by eighth grade for students who are bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. Then, by ninth grade, they can enroll in classes for a third language at the high school level.
"We believe that bilingualism is an asset and not a disadvantage," Valero said.
English as a Second Language classrooms are run primarily in English with a range of second languages represented. U-46 students come to school speaking almost 100 different languages, the most common of which are English, Spanish, Gujarati, Lao, Polish, Tagalog, Urdu and Vietnamese.
U-46 offers one-way Dual Language classes to Spanish-speakers and two-way Dual Language classes that are split between English-dominant and Spanish-dominant speakers. Two-way dual language -- an enrichment program -- has grown from seven classrooms last year to 16 this year. And Valero said some parents are offering to pay out-of-district tuition as well as transportation costs to get their students to U-46 schools for the program.
Across all Dual Language classrooms, the district went from serving 3,817 students last year to 5,199 this year. The plan is to continue expanding Dual Language offerings as the original class of students ages. Next year fourth grade will be added to the program.
Dual Language interest forms for students entering kindergarten or first grade are due April 19 for the 2013-14 school year.
For details, visit u-46.org.