Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Break/Why go to a dual immersion school?

I am on Spring Break. My two older girls are not. So many people have made comments about how nice that must be and it has made me think about whether it is or not. There are some advantages and some disadvantages.

Advantages:
*I've had lots of one-on-one time with Gabrielle. She cracks me up. And, particularly during the fall break in October, we became much more closely bonded.
*I've been able to get a lot of things done...work in my classroom (while Gabby plays with blocks or paints), get Chester's shots and get him sterilized, clean the house, clean out several closets and drawers, etc.
*I've been able to go to both Michelle and Ella's music show and tells. Tomorrow, I'll be able to volunteer in Michelle's classroom for an hour. These are things I can't usually do because I'm at work.
*It's much easier to finish homework, have Michelle practice violin, fix and eat dinner, read to my kids, etc. when we are home at 4 rather than 5:30ish.

Disadvantages:
*I still have to get up early, cook breakfast, drive my kids 25-30 minutes to school and then turn around and drive home and then repeat that 50-60 minute drive in the afternoon to pick them up. (It doesn't seem so bad when I'm going to work because my school is five minutes away. 25 minutes doesn't seem too bad...but an hour, twice a day seems like more of a sacrifice and guzzles a lot more gas. Also, it would be nice to sleep in a little bit when I'm off work. But I guess if I'm being honest, I"m more productive and feel better when I get up early so maybe it's a good thing.)
*I don't get to spend as much time with my kids as I'd like. I feel like I'm already away from them so much at work that I'd like to spend these 2 weeks going to museums/zoo/aquarium/etc., having playdates, reading together, playing games, etc.


Several people have also asked me why my girls go to the school they go to. Interestingly, they rarely ask why my kids don't go to our neighborhood school...they almost always ask why they don't go to the school where I teach. There's a short answer and a long answer to that. This is the longer answer.

First, their school has a dual immersion program. Mine has a bilingual program. Let me explain the difference. The purpose of a dual immersion program is to teach literacy and mathematics (and really all of the curriculum) in two languages...in this case, English and Spanish. (Although there are other programs out there...Chinese, French and I'm sure others.) Generally, a dual immersion program tries to have a 50-50 split of kids with about half speaking each language as their native language (although this isn't always the case). The kids are immersed in both languages so that part of their time is spent in their native language and part is spent in their foreign (or at least less dominant) language. The purpose is to become fluent readers, writers and speakers of both languages.

A bilingual program has a different purpose and usually a different demographic. We know that kids learn literacy most easily in their native language. Once they have learned to read in their native language, it is easier to attach their new learning in their second language to what they already know about reading in their first. (This philosophy is also an important part of most dual immersion programs as well...they focus on literacy in the first language first.) So in a bilingual program generally all of the students' first language would not be English...in our case it would be Spanish. They are trying to give them Spanish literacy in kindergarten and first grade and then by the middle of first grade they begin transitioning them into English literacy. The goal is to maintain the first language and then build the second language. So the amount of time spent in each language might vary, especially in Kindergarten and 1st grade. Because my children's primary language is English, they do not qualify for a bilingual program.

Alfredo has always spoken to our children in Spanish at least 75% of the time. But I speak to them in English, our babysitters have primarily spoken to them in English and most of our friends and neighbors speak to them in English. My kids have entered school with the ability to understand quite a bit of Spanish, but only speaking a little bit. Since much of Alfredo's family lives outside the country and only speaks Spanish, it feels important to us to have our children be bilingual. In addition, it will be a great life skill and provide extra job opportunities. Furthermore, it is easier to learn a second language at a young age than as you get older. Also, speaking a second language opens your mind and allows you to see things in a different way, can help you develop compassion and empathy for those from different backgrounds (although there are definitely other ways to develop that as well) and will challenge my children and make their schooling more difficult but also more rewarding.

So that is why they go to the school they go to.

In addition, we love the teachers there. We love the population...so many children of diverse backgrounds and families from a variety of backgrounds, socio-economic levels and educational backgrounds, etc. They have a great music program. And all of this available in a public school. :)

Oh, one last comment: It does make some things more difficult. They rarely get to play with their friends after school because their school friends live too far away and because by the time we get home there often just isn't time to do homework (including reading in both languages), violin practice, dinner and family time before bed if they play with friends. Michelle, in particular, gets very little down time and I do worry about that sometimes. She does comment at times that school is hard and that she doesn't get to play like she wants to. But it's building character and responsibility and we do try to include fun times as often as possible.

Also, people often ask if learning the second language makes school hard. My kids have done very well. They both love school. But I'm fortunate because my husband speaks Spanish fluently and my kids began school with quite a bit of Spanish background and a good foundation to learn to read in English. It definitely isn't for everyone. There are kids who struggle to learn to read in one language and trying to handle two is just too much. At my kids' school (and my school as well) kids that are struggling in both languages and sometimes even kids just struggling in one language are moved to a regular English class in 3rd grade. They are provided interventions to hopefully help them be more successful and if that doesn't work they are often tested for special ed to get additional help and support and to see if there is something (such as a learning disability) that is keeping them from learning.