SAN ANTONIO – Sonia Escamilla’s first-grade students at Mora Elementary were visibly excited learning vowels, syllables and songs.
“They’re like this from the minute they get here to the minute they leave,” Escamilla said.
She said it’s likely because they’re learning everything in Spanish.
Mora is among the four newest elementary schools in the Northside Independent School District this year with an emphasis on dual language, the most added since the program began in 2001. Back then, it started with two campuses at Monroe May and Esparza Elementary Schools.
There are now 10 elementary and two middle schools throughout the district offering dual language instruction.
“We start off at 90 percent of instruction in Spanish in kindergarten and gradually move to 50-50 by fifth grade,” said Victor Raga, director of NISD bilingual and ESL programs.
He said the goal is for the students to become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural by the time they reach middle school.
Raga said the interest in these programs crosses cultural lines because more parents have come to the same realization after doing their research.
“The value of acquiring a second language is immeasurable,” Raga said. “Anybody who is bilingual counts for two.”
He said among their dual language alumni are a biologist, a career adviser and teacher, and another is working on a degree in geographic information systems.
Julie Ortiz, a teacher and a mother of three in the program, said she wanted to give her children the gift of becoming bilingual.
“The world we live in now, graduating from college isn’t enough,” Ortiz said.
She said she hopes to give her children a competitive edge someday by saying they’re bilingual on their resumes.
Ortiz said her children already seem more self-confident and willing to take a risk by learning a new language.
“They’re thinking outside the box already,” she said. “My brain doesn’t think that way. But my kids are thinking in two languages all the time.”
Raga said in doing so, they’re building the cognitive ability they’ll need throughout life.
Ortiz said she’s explained to her children that if they encounter criticism, it’s because people have different views.
“This language and this culture is important to us,” Ortiz said. “It’s our heritage.”