SILER CITY — Totally immersing students into a language they don’t speak is the wrong approach, Jordan-Matthews High School teacher Ana Quiceno said.
The dual-language model in Chatham County Schools is the way to go, introducing English in small doses over time to native Spanish speakers, Quiceno said. That method came together for Jordan-Matthews junior Guadalupe Espinoza-Elvira, and she wound up with both a $500 prize and a trip to Dallas, Texas, to show for it.
“First place nationwide,” Espinoza-Elvira said.
Espinoza-Elvira, from Mexico, won the high school division of the 46th Annual Nationwide Writing Contest for Bilingual Students. It was sponsored by the National Association for Bilingual Education, which paid for Espinoza-Elvira and her mom to attend its February conference in Dallas, where the young lady was honored. Espinoza-Elvira delivered her essay during the conference.
The winning words were about how being bilingual would help Espinoza-Elvira in the future. Her primary language is Spanish. She and the other contestants had to craft the essays in their secondary languages. The judges, obviously, liked the way Espinoza-Elvira emitted English.
That’s a byproduct of the training in Chatham County Schools, said Quiceno, who teaches Spanish and Spanish language arts in the district’s dual-language program.
“Chatham County Schools has utilized the dual-language program to better engage our English-language learners and assist them in accessing a rigorous curriculum,” said Charles Aiken, the district’s executive director of middle grades and Title III instruction. “The dual-language program allows students to demonstrate learning in their native language — whether that be English or Spanish — while learning a second language. It is designed to take advantage of the strengths and abilities all students bring to the classroom, rather than seeing any set of students as lacking or being deficient.”
Espinoza-Elvira said she wants to use her dual-language ability to help people. She’s already doing that by translating for her mom, who is not fluent in English, Quiceno said.
“She’s a very responsible lady, because she had to learn that to help her mom,” Quiceno said.
In so doing, Espinoza-Elvira, 18, is meeting all sorts of people while translating at the restaurant that her mom owns. That’s good networking for both college and job opportunities, Quiceno explained.
“She has an advantage. She has a really great advantage,” Quiceno said.
“It’s blessed to know you have the power to communicate in two languages,” said Espinoza-Elvira, an aspiring culinary artist. “It opens up a lot of doors of opportunity.”
The $500 from winning the writing contest may turn into a down payment for braces this summer, Espinoza-Elvira said. That’s one option.
Which is what Quiceno preaches to her dual-language students — options.
“Hey, world, we’re here! We’re bilingual, and this is what we can achieve with two languages,” Quiceno said. “The bilingual program is helping to close that gap.”