CARTHAGE, Mo. — Kindergartners at Fairview Elementary School in Carthage are learning in two languages.

The southwestern Missouri school’s classroom features two teachers — one who speaks only in Spanish and the other in English, the Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/2cKWcSc ).

No matter what language the students speak at home, they are spending their days learning to follow a new one, paired with a “study buddy” for help on words they don’t understand.

“At first, some are defiant,” Spanish-speaking teacher Emily Jimenez said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.'”

But soon, she said, even those students begin replacing words in English sentences with Spanish vocabulary, an early sign that the language acquisition process is beginning.

Parents and educators say Fairview’s bilingual education program is seeing impressive results two years into the effort. Still, demand for slots is barely exceeding the available supply. So far, no family has been turned away. A lottery process would be used if the program’s two kindergarten classrooms, or about 40 seats, are ever not enough.

“I’m surprised, frankly,” said Lora Phelps, one of several parents who first presented the idea for the program to the Carthage School Board. “I thought we’d have a waiting list on year one.”

Fairview Principal Ronna Patterson expected it to take time for the community to see the benefits of bilingual education.

“It’s a very new concept here,” she said. In fact, the Fairview dual-language program is one of only three in Missouri.

Plans call for the program to expand by one grade level per year until bilingual classes are available K-12.

“I know the benefits of the program,” said Jana Sawyer, language coordinator for Carthage schools. “And the hard one for me is knowing how good it would be for all kids.”

Today, 32 states have some form of “language immersion” education. Carthage’s use of the format comes after a wave of immigration from Spanish-speaking countries led to an increased need for English as a Second Language support services in the district.

In 1996, 40 students in the district required ESL support. Now there are 1,180, which makes up 26 percent of all students, Sawyer said. Fairview was chosen to pilot the program because 68 percent of its students speak Spanish at home.

Randi Nelson, 21, who teaches kindergarten English in the dual-language program, said students gain confidence from the tight-knit communities that spring from multicultural classrooms.

“You see it in comfort levels on the playground,” she said. “We see a lot of interplay between English-speakers and Spanish-speakers. Spanish-speakers in the normal track sometimes lose their Spanish, but kids in dual-language don’t because there’s so much encouragement for the language.”

Confidence and proficiency in two languages “brings creativity,” said Tina Hallmark, whose daughter is in the dual-language program.

“It brings self-discipline because she wants to learn. And being completely bilingual is amazing for the job and travel opportunities it will open up in her future.”


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com