The Bilingual Program gives the children of Edmonds a bilingual education

LYNNWOOD – Alex Toro dreaded going to school.

He couldn’t understand what anyone was saying.

That changed last year when 6-year-old Alex started kindergarten in the Edmonds School District’s new bilingual program. Now he is learning to read and write in his mother tongue, Spanish.

His mother, Faviola Hernández, said that Alex loved school so much that he wished he could sleep there at night.

Until this year, Alex attended an English-only school. He was still confused, his mother said. When Hernández and her husband, Ismael Toro, heard about the program through College Place Elementary, they decided to give it a try.

“At first I considered taking him out because I was worried he wouldn’t learn English,” Hernández said in Spanish. “But his teachers assured me that he would learn English and Spanish. When he finishes high school, he will be bilingual.

Last fall, the Edmonds School District launched its bilingual English-Spanish kindergarten program at two schools – College Place and Cedar Valley Community School. Each year, the district plans to add another grade level to the program until it is open to all ages.

In the program’s inaugural year, kindergarten classes are taught 90% of the time in Spanish and 10% in English, said Mary Williams, director of multilingual education for the district. As students age, this ratio will change. By the time they reach college, it will be 50%-50%.

At College Place, approximately 50% of the student body is Hispanic. The English-Spanish program is open to students with any native language, including those who do not speak either.

Candace Haas-Jaramilla (right) helps Jafet Rivas at College Place Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“The main reason we’re doing this program is because we empower students,” Williams said. “So they can ultimately be stronger students in both languages. There is evidence that shows that when you are strong in your first language, it helps you grow and become stronger in your second language.

Carla Carrizosa is the manager of College Place. She said the program unifies people.

“I’m bilingual and bi-literate myself,” Carrizosa said. “This program offers families the opportunity to use their native language in a way that will educate their students, whether it’s Spanish or English.”

The director said the district is considering similar programs for other languages, such as Vietnamese.

Erika Rabura leads her class at College Place Elementary School in Lynnwood.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Erika Rabura leads her class at College Place Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Families who don’t speak English at home often feel pressured to prioritize teaching English reading and writing to their children so they don’t fall behind in school. This can cause a sense of shame in students who are forced to give up their mother tongue at school.

“Right now, for students who speak Spanish as their first language, there is a sense of pride – pride that they are not just speaking their language, but learning to read and write their language” , said Carrizosa.

Carrizosa said the bilingual program has inspired cultural respect in the school’s leadership. Members of the school’s parent-teacher association are predominantly white, Carrizosa said. At a recent meeting, parents asked the principal how to diversify the PTA so that it accurately represents the student body.

“I feel like our dual language spearheads those interactions,” Carrizosa said. “For the PTA to say, ‘Look, we’re all white women here, and we want to change that. We want to see the PTA become more inclusive.’”

The program allows parents who do not speak English, like Hernández, to be able to help their children with their homework.

A student works on a spreadsheet at College Place Elementary School in Lynnwood.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A student works on a spreadsheet at College Place Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Hernández and her husband moved to Lynnwood from Oaxaca, Mexico in 2002. She said they considered moving back to Mexico in 2018 when her father was diagnosed with cancer, but decided to stay in the United States. United so that Alex has more opportunities. She said Alex was so much happier since he started kindergarten.

“He will come home and be so proud,” she said. “He will talk about reading and writing activities in Spanish.”

And although the first year is mostly taught in Spanish, Hernández said, her son’s English has also improved. He has befriended English-speaking students, she says, and they sometimes speak in English at recess.

“Being bilingual will open so many doors for Alex,” she said. “With employment options but also to help others, even just at the grocery store – if a person feels more comfortable because someone understands what they’re saying, they feel less alone.”

Hernández heard about the kindergarten program from a friend.

“It benefits so many Hispanic kids who live here,” she said. “So many people lose all their Spanish when they go to school in the United States.”

An informational Zoom meeting on the program will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Interested in teaching your child English and Spanish?

Children entering kindergarten or first grade for the 2022-23 school year can apply to be part of the Edmonds School District Bilingual Program. For more information, visit the school’s website.

¿L’interesa que su hijo(a) aprenda dos idiomas?

El programa de lenguaje dual español/inglés del Distrito Edmonds is open for the incoming kindergarten y 1st grade for the year 2022 to 2023. For mayor information, ir al site web de la escuela.

Faviola Hernández’s quotes were translated from Spanish to English, with her permission, by Herald reporter Ellen Dennis.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; [email protected]; Twitter: @reporterellen.

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