New Fort Worth program will graduate bilingual students

12/15/2013 3:53 PM

12/16/2013 4:29 PM

Students who can read, write and talk proficiently in English and Spanish will be part of the Fort Worth school district’s Class of 2020.

That’s when the first class of students is expected to graduate from the World Languages Institute. The program, which begins next fall, is the district’s first secondary school to cater to students who have learned English and Spanish simultaneously.

“I have already planned their graduation,” said Carrie Harrington, director of the Fort Worth school district’s world languages department.

The value of learning second languages is becoming increasingly important and supported by research, educators said. Besides giving students an edge in their chosen career path, educators say learning a second language helps students improve in other subjects.

Language learning also helps build a greater appreciation for other cultures and improved interpersonal skills, educators say.

“The possibilities are endless if you know more than one language,” Harrington said.

The campus also opens its doors as language learning is getting another boost. Next year, the state will begin to acknowledge students who received bilingual education on their diplomas. That recognition, which was included in Texas House Bill 5, helps give credit to students who learned multilingual skills in school.

“Why should we keep kids from flying as high or soaring as high as they can?” Harrington said.

The institute will be located in the facility currently housing the Young Women’s Leadership Academy at 1066 W. Magnolia Ave. The academy will move to 401 E. Eighth St. after the winter break.

Parents pushed for program

Students who are in Spanish immersion and Dual Language classes can read, write and speak in Spanish and English. Their abilities are so strong that many can take state-mandated performance tests in either language, Harrington said.

Students in the Dual Language program are typically youngsters from Spanish-speaking families.

“We are nurturing a group of bilingual, biliterate, culturally aware, global citizens,” Harrington said.

Plans to start the new school started with a push from parents whose children are in immersion programs at Burton Hill and Morningside elementary schools.

“They very enthusiastically embrace the elementary program,” said Michael Sorum, the district’s deputy superintendent of leadership, learning and student support.

Sorum said parents with youngsters in the immersion programs asked for a middle school option to continue language learned in elementary. The program also offers a “next step” for students in the Dual Language program.

Parent Melissa Acosta has two youngsters in the Spanish immersion program at Burton Hill. She said her second-grade and kindergarten students are gaining a valuable asset.

“It’s a life skill that they are going to be able to utilize in a global world,” Acosta said. “Our world is becoming smaller.”

‘The sky is the limit’

The main requirement for students is an “expressed desire to become bilingual in English and Spanish and to learn a third language,” Sorum said.

The institute will serve students in grades six through 12 who are moving from elementary-level Spanish immersion and Dual Language programs. Students must apply and are selected through a districtwide lottery.

When the institute opens next fall, it will serve sixth and seventh grades. There are 75 slots in each grade for the upcoming school year, said Guadalupe Barreto, who will serve as principal of the school.

“Every year we will add one grade level,” Barreto said.

The students will continue learning core subjects in English and Spanish. Students will also be expected to learn a third language.

Barreto said they are trying to figure out which languages to offer, but parents and students have asked for French, Mandarin Chinese, sign language and computer languages.

Students will be taught as gifted and talented learners with rigorous expectations and lessons, Barreto said. Plans are also underway to work with universities and establish study-abroad trips or experiences.

“The sky is the limit,” Barreto said.

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