Dist. 203 celebrating bilingualism with first Dual-Language Fair

Within the dual-language community in Naperville Unit District 203, there are students like Morena and Julia Cancela.

They speak Spanish at home and they're Argentine by birth, but they lived five years of their 13- and 9-year-old lives in Sweden, where they learned English in school.

The girls and their mother, Analia Battaiola Sanchez, will get the chance to put their globe-trotting culture on display during the district's first Dual-Language Fair, which celebrates five Spanish-speaking nations and highlights the Spanish and English achievements of dual-language students.

"We are very enthusiastic with the opportunity of displaying a little bit about our own culture," Battaiola Sanchez said. "There is a huge diversity hidden behind the common language."

The variety among Spanish speakers will be in the spotlight during the free fair, set for 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at Jefferson Junior High, 1525 N. Loomis St., and open to anyone with a student in Naperville Unit District 203.

Booths with the traditions, tourist sites, artifacts and foods of five countries - Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Cancela girls' native Argentina - will be the main attraction.

Visitors also can play soccer with the Lisle Dragons, enjoy storytelling sessions led by parents and volunteers, and listen to a keynote address by Jackie Camacho-Ruiz, an entrepreneur, speaker and author who owns JJR Marketing, who will present in English at 1 p.m. and in Spanish at 2:30 p.m.

"For the kids who speak Spanish at home, it's another opportunity to see Spanish used as the language of social interaction," said Marion Friebus-Flaman, director of language acquisition.

The new fair comes during District 203's ninth year of rolling out its dual-language program. Next year, all five elementary schools, one junior high and two high schools where the program is offered will include dual-language instruction at all grade levels.

As the program has matured, parents have told Friebus-Flaman they'd like to forge more connections with each other despite being scattered across different buildings.

"Our parent community has often expressed the desire to come together as a whole dual-language community and celebrate the bilingualism of the students and celebrate some of the cultural experiences," she said. "A big part of the dual-language program is to really become multicultural in the way we think."

Another goal for students such as the Cancela girls, who already speak both languages, is to gain academic fluency in both tongues, not just casual speaking ability.

From kindergarten on, students learn to read, write and speak both languages, and they also learn their academic subjects such as social studies, science and math in Spanish as well as English, Friebus-Flaman said. This helps students who complete the program market their bilingualism to employers.

"I don't think that speaking the language at home is sufficient as time passes by," Battaiola Sanchez said about her daughters' Spanish literacy skills. "They need to get good competencies and skills in the language that are not so easy to accomplish just speaking at home."

This year, for the first time, the district will award the Illinois Seal of Biliteracy to graduating seniors, and in the future, dual-language students will be eligible for the award as well. There are 30 high school students who have been taking dual-language classes, Friebus-Flaman said, and last year, all tested at a level of proficient or above in reading, writing, listening and speaking both languages.

"That was very encouraging for us to see that it does work," Friebus-Flaman said. "They do become bilingual."

Battaiola Sanchez said she and the other parents planning the Dual-Language Fair are looking forward to expressing their heritage. At the Argentina booth, Battaiola Sanchez will re-create the merienda afternoon snack tradition with an herbal tea-like drink called mate and sandwich cookies called alfajores.

The leisurely, light meal is not something Americans pause for, but it's a treat in Argentina, and Battaiola Sanchez said she'll help kids experience it by creating their own alfajores with dulce du leche filling.

"Sometimes it's hard to be abroad because you start to live according to the dominant culture," she said. "So it's nice to have a tiny opportunity to display something on your own cultural roots."

  Naperville sisters Julia, 9, and Morena Cancela, 13, were born in Argentina and learned English in school while living in Sweden. Today, they learn in both languages as part of Naperville Unit District 203's dual-language program. Mark Black/
  At the Dual-Language Fair, Julia, 9, and Morena Cancela, 13, will share with visitors some of the traditions of their native Argentina, including the merienda, or afternoon snack, with details on a poster and samples of an herbal tea-like drink called mate and sandwich cookies called alfajores. Mark Black/
Students in the Naperville Unit District 203 dual-language program created this logo to promote the district's first Dual-Language Fair, which is set for 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at Jefferson Junior High. Courtesy of Marion Friebus-Flaman

If you go

What: Dual-Language Fair

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 29

Where: Jefferson Junior High School, 1525 N. Loomis St., Naperville

Details: Naperville Unit District 203 community invited to see cultural showcases from dual-language program participants

Cost: Free

Info:, select "Dual Language" under the "Academics" tab

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