The Spanish Dual Language Program is accepting applications for the 2017-18 school year.
Families may apply online until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, February 13, 2017.

Switching between English and Spanish comes easily these days to Lake Hills student Joaquin Kiltz. He is a part of the school’s dual language program where students learn to read and write in both languages beginning in Kindergarten.

It’s easy, Kiltz said, “because we’ve been here all these years.”

The district currently offers Spanish Dual Language programs for grades K-5 at three of its elementary schools: Sherwood Forest, Stevenson, and Lake Hills. The long term vision for the program is that it will expand by one grade level each year until the full range of Kindergarten through 12th grade is offered.

Lake Hills Dual Language Students

“I like learning Spanish because I can learn new words,” said Lake Hills student Stacy Coulibaly.  Another Lake Hills student, Keleman Bateman said, “I like learning Spanish because it’s a new language and it’s really fun to speak.”

Learning in both Spanish and English allows students to become bilingual and biliterate, and also allows them to be deeply immersed in another culture.

“I think one of the biggest advantages is that students get to develop really strong oral reading and writing skills,” said Baisy Tirado, a dual language teacher at Lake Hills.

Advantages of the dual language model also extend beyond the walls of the classroom.

“I have seen the students are accepting of each other’s backgrounds and culture, and that becomes something that is very positive and they can celebrate,” Jessica Mariscal, a bilingual coach for the dual language programs, said of additional benefits she sees of the dual language model. “Adding this multi-cultural layer to the curriculum is enriching to all students because it helps build positive self-identities and creates more confident students.”

In a dual language class the goal is to have half native English speakers and half native Spanish speakers. This provides a structure where students learn from one another, ask questions, and help each other understand the new language. Having both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers gives all students the chance to take turns as leaders and helpers in language learning.

“This program is the best for both worlds,” Mariscal said.

In Kindergarten and first grade, 90 percent of the curriculum is taught in Spanish, while ten percent is taught in English. In second grade the ratio shifts to 70/30 and in third grade it becomes 50/50.

Lake Hills Dual Language Student

“In the beginning it’s good for the students to receive the majority of the instruction in Spanish because they are receiving the language – establishing a base for the language,” Mariscal explained.

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit, staff do as well.

“(Dual language) brings teachers together, as well as different students from different cultures,” Tirado said. “I wanted to become a dual language teacher because I also went to a dual language school. I just see so many benefits from being bilingual. I think it opens up many opportunities.”

Tirado said that seeing students grow academically and personally as they learn a second language is especially gratifying as an educator.

“Being a dual language teacher is one of the most exciting experiences that a teacher can live,” Tirado said.

Students apply what they learn to the rest of their lives, engaging their new language at home and in the community.

“I like to talk in Spanish because I can understand other people who don’t speak English, and I can know what they are saying,” said Lake Hills student Jose Mercado-Pelaez.

There are intangible benefits to students as well.

“Dual language helps create a more confident student,” said Tirado. “The environment of learning both languages helps students cope with challenges and learn to persevere.”

Lake Hills Classroom

It’s imperative for parents to realize they are making a long term commitment to the program – students don’t learn a new language overnight, or even in a year. The greatest benefits are reaped by students who remain immersed in a second language long term.

“So I will tell the parents: ‘Kindergarten is exploring; it’s getting them used to listening to the language,” Mariscal explained. “Don’t expect your Kindergartener to come home and say a full sentence in Spanish the first couple of months, because it isn’t going to happen. It doesn’t happen to any student that is learning a second language. However, after several months you will start hearing Spanish chants and songs and gradually phrases and short sentences.”

Mariscal added that it isn’t unusual for parents to doubt their decision during the first couple of years, however both teachers agreed the long term commitment reaps huge gains for students.

“I think the long term benefits are very substantial,” Tirado said. “A lot of these students get to build multi-linguistic skills. I think it’s something you can translate to the real world.”

NOTE: This article was originally posted January 27, 2016

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.