- Associated Press - Friday, April 21, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Since 2009, children attending Scott Dual Language Magnet have been learning not only how to speak in English and Spanish, they’ve been learning how to read, solve math problems, explore science and become citizens of the world in both languages.

The program started with 32 students in Scott’s preschool program, according to principal Sarah Lucero, and is up to 72 students this year.

“Every year we’ve been able to stay at full capacity,” said Lucero, who became assistant principal at Scott in 2012 and then principal in 2013. “We usually have a wait list on application day.”

This year, however, Lucero said there are more preschool slots open than in past years. Applications for preschool students will be accepted this Thursday at the school at 401 S.E. Market. There are no qualifiers for any child in Topeka Unified School District 501 to enroll in the dual language program, she said.

The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/2pq2jBq ) reports that all students in preschool through the third grade are taught all of their subjects in English and Spanish, and two classrooms each of fourth- and fifth-graders are taught in both languages. She said the program, with a dual language classroom in each grade at Whitson Elementary, has shown her “what’s possible in education.”

“It’s been amazing to watch these kids become bilingual whose native language is English, and they come to school here and learn Spanish just from being in the school environment,” she said. “It’s really neat to watch what’s possible in a school system and help these kids become bilingual just by what we’re doing here. I’ve learned that when we set high expectations, kids will reach them.”

Lucero said research shows how a child’s brain develops when he or she learns another language at a young age, which in turn helps children in other academic areas and career opportunities later in life.

“The fact that they will be competitive is just amazing,” Lucero said. “No matter which field these choose, if they choose the science field, having that Latin base language of Spanish will help them transfer over to biology and having those Latin-based words. It’s also about being a translator in that field.”

“I’m so excited about what these kids will be able to bring to the Topeka culture,” Lucero continued. “With all these corporations we’re trying to bring to Topeka, they will be awesome citizens for Topeka, for sure.”

Lucero said learning another language at an early age has cognitive and problem-solving benefits and can decrease the risk of brain-related illnesses later in life. In addition, higher levels of student attendance, test scores and parental involvement have been positive benefits of the Scott dual language program, she said.

“They (Scott staff) have a really big job to do but they’re doing it very well,” said Sarah Fizell, a parent of a Scott kindergartener, Astra, and an incoming preschooler, Geneva. “They’re very clear on their mission.”

Fizell said in addition to her daughter, Astra, learning all of her academic subjects in English and Spanish, “she is learning about the way different people live their lives.”

“You learn that best when those people are your friends,” she said.

Melanie Stuart Campbell has a son, Stuart, a fourth-grader, and a daughter, Paloma, a second-grader at Scott. She said while her children have benefited from having teachers at Scott from Spain and several South American countries - Nicaragua, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and El Salvador to name a few - and having classmates who speak predominantly Spanish, she and other parents at the school have been able to get to know each other on a deeper cultural level.

“It reduces xenophobia because we’re able to communicate with others from different cultures,” she said. “It enables healthy and productive relationships on a global scale.”

Vianey Perez, whose children Vianey Villasana, a second-grader, and Luis Villasana, a preschooler at Scott, said her children feel “very proud” to say they’re students there. She said her son is learning to read in English and Spanish at a much earlier age and at a faster rate than she expected.

“Not only are they learning, but they’re learning very quickly,” Perez said through Elisa Banowsky, a Scott kindergarten teacher, who was translating for her.

Perez said her daughter works hard to learn, especially language arts, what is presented in both languages.

“She is learning that she is capable of learning everything she is taught,” she said. “Sometimes it just takes more effort.”

Perez said she is hoping her children will continue moving through Topeka USD 501’s dual language program. The students who were in the dual language program at Scott beginning in 2009 are now in the dual language program at Landon Middle School that began at the start of the 2015-16 school year and has an estimated 60 students.

Anita Curry, USD 501’s director of English Language Learner services since 2009, said the district is working on plans to extend the dual language program to one of the three traditional high schools - Highland Park, Topeka High or Topeka West.

“That decision hasn’t been made yet,” she said, adding that the goal is to have a high school dual language program starting in August of 2018. “We do not have the details ironed out yet, but we do have a commitment to a high school program.”

Curry said USD 501 will likely have the first high school dual language program in Kansas when it becomes a reality. She said it would be a “feather in the cap” of USD 501 to be the first, but having more high schools come online with similar dual language programs would be beneficial.

“I say the more the merrier to collaborate,” Curry said, “so we’re not reinventing the wheel.”


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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