Not a word of English is spoken in Crystal Flores’ first-grade class at Erma Nash Elementary School. All instructions, lessons and conversation in the class is in Spanish.
But this isn’t an English as a second language class. Half the students are English dominant, the other half are Spanish dominant. Next door, another class is being taught entirely in English with the same mix of students.
Less than three months after starting the Two-Way Dual Language program at Nash, kindergarteners and first graders immersed in both languages are becoming bilingual not just in language skills but math, science and social studies, too.
The kindergartners and first graders spend half the day doing lessons in English and half the day in Spanish. Every two weeks, the subject flip languages so they are learning math, science, reading and social studies in both languages.
"It’s amazing that they are able to learn two languages in a short amount of time," said Erin Sheppard, a kindergarten teacher who teaches in English. "They come in singing Spanish songs. I’m learning from them. They learn from each others. That’s the best thing about this program."
The Two-Way Dual Language program is part of Mansfield ISD’s Power of Choice program that started this year. It allows students to take advantage of special curriculum at designated schools, even if it’s not where they are zoned to attend. D.P. Morris Elementary Schools offers a similar Dual-Language program for kindergartners. The district even offers bus service for students from other parts of the district.
"Our first-grade class, we have a lot of kids from the east side of Mansfield," said Principal Tiffanie King. "We have quite a few who are from other schools."
Nash has three kindergarten classes, totaling 66 students, and one first-grade class, with 22 students.
There’s a reason many parents are choosing to send their child for dual-language curriculum, King explains. First, students in kindergarten and first grade can soak up language skills faster than when they reach high school and language is required.
"I think you look at our world and you look at our society and you see what you need to be successful, it’s a benefit for students to have two languages," King said. "I think our parents really realized the benefit and the advantage their child may have when they’re an adult."
Students who stick with it could test out of high school Spanish before they get to high school. Then, they could choose to learn another language or study other subjects.
The students learn in pairs, the English dominant student works alongside the Spanish dominant student, helping each other when they don’t understand a word or concept.
Sheppard, a mother of four, has a kindergartner in the dual language program and a second-grader enrolled in a bilingual program, also at Nash. The second-grade daughter is already ahead of her in Spanish.
"Honestly, she’s like a little teacher. She helps me prepare my class," Sheppard said. "I just think learning from anybody, whether it be a kid or an adult, is great."
And now that the kindergartener is learning Spanish, there’s even more Spanish being spoken at home.
"I think they’re having conversations about me that I don’t really know about," Sheppard said.
There are challenges to doing the program. Because her students rotate, she has 44 kindergartners every day instead of 22. But she’s thrilled with how far they’ve come in less than three months.
"I definitely see the benefits of having them in this program," Sheppard said. "To see their progress, it’s amazing. We’ve only gotten positive feedback from parents."
The Power of Choice program has taken off at other schools throughout Mansfield ISD. Martha Reid Elementary School launched a Leadership Academy designed to teach children to take charge and become leaders.
Tarver-Rendon Elementary School partnered with the Ben Barber Innovation Academy to start the Planting the Seed program where they work with high school students to learn about agricultural.
Brooks Wester Middle School started the Jerry Knight STEM Academy with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
And Timberview High School launched the Southeast Early College High School program in partnership with Tarrant County College. Students can take college courses and earn a high school diploma and an associates degree at the same time.