Scott Dual Language Magnet School provides pre-K through fifth-grade students with a comprehensive education in both English and Spanish (including math, science, reading and social studies). According to principal Sarah Lucero, the program has grown from 32 preschool students in 2009 to 72 students this year: “Every year we’ve been able to stay at full capacity. We usually have a wait list on application day.” Given the advantages of an early bilingual education, this high level of enrollment isn’t surprising.
Scott students are immersed in a bilingual environment every day, and this provides a range of cognitive and social benefits that they wouldn’t get in any other educational setting. The classes are split 50/50 between native English and Spanish speakers, and the teachers “speak only in the designated language and communicate using a range of engaging strategies to promote student understanding and language development.” This organic exposure to a second language is intended to mirror the way students learned their native language, and it generally produces better results than traditional courses.
According to the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota, students in immersive language programs “approach native-like levels in second-language listening comprehension and reading by the end of elementary school, although they are distinguishable from native speakers in speaking and writing.” Lucero explains how the immersive environment at Scott helps students learn at all times: “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.”
Despite the common misconception that learning a second language will invariably harm a student’s capacity in his or her native tongue, a considerable body of research suggests that bilingualism has positive effects on academic performance and cognitive abilities. For example, American University’s Jennifer Steele conducted a randomized, four-year study of dual-language students in Portland, Ore., and she found that their reading skills (in English) were a full grade level above their peers by the time they finished middle school. While this could be due to confounding variables (perhaps these students were more academically inclined to begin with), Steele points to the fact that the students’ math and science scores remained roughly comparable to their peers. This suggests that their “metalinguistic awareness” has improved as a result of their bilingual education.
A 2004 study conducted by York University researchers Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee suggested more general cognitive advantages to bilingualism. Monolingual and bilingual preschoolers were asked to do tasks that required cognitive flexibility — such as sorting shapes of different colors — and the bilingual students performed better. Bilingualism provides plenty of other benefits as well — it’s a skill that’s becoming more and more valuable in an increasingly globalized economy, it allows students to forge personal and professional relationships with millions of people around the world, it opens up new cultures and experiences.
Scott has more open slots than usual this year, and it’s accepting applications on Thursday. Parents who want their children to be more dynamic speakers and thinkers should consider applying.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Hosman, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.