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Members of the DISD community are excited to be the first school district in the Valley to implement a program called Simultaneous Biliteracy. They are hopeful the new curriculum component will help English Language Learners (ELLs) improve their test scores and overall educational experience.

Five elementary schools – Rivas, Runn, Salazar, Salinas, and Singleterry — volunteered to apply the program in their K-2 grades this 2017-2018 school year. The module is designed to teach students two languages at the same time. In this case, it is Spanish, the student’s native language, and English.

“Most school districts including Donna ISD follow a dual-language model which allows some subjects to be taught in Spanish and others in English,” Bilingual Program Director Gregorio Arellano Jr. said. “The Simultaneous Biliteracy curriculum is different. It provides instruction for all subjects in Spanish and English.”

Arellano said the program is more aggressive than the traditional dual-language model especially in the area of literacy. “Simultaneous Biliteracy looks and treats a student as bilingual,” Arellano said. “It allows the child to use both languages at the same time.”

Arellano said the program is tricky because teachers must learn to balance instruction. “Teachers must have an understanding when to switch on and off. They need to be able to give the same amount of instruction time for Spanish as they do for English.”

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The program is structured where both languages alternate every other day. “For example, Mondays and Wednesdays are Spanish instruction while Tuesdays and Thursdays are English for kinder grades,” he said. “Instruction will also alternate every Friday.”

Arellano first learned about the program when his staff attended a Texas Association for Bilingual Education Conference in Galveston. He followed up with a group visit to El Paso ISD. The west Texas school district was successful in integrating the program across several grade levels.

“The district is similar to ours here in Donna,” Arellano said. “It is close to the Rio Grande River and it has a lot of recent immigrants. Despite the challenges, the children received good instruction in Spanish and English and were scoring well in the STAAR exams. We saw for ourselves when we went into a kinder classroom with Spanish instruction. The children were learning different letters and responding to our questions in Spanish, and then in English without hesitating. We were floored. That’s when we knew this was the direction we needed to take.”

Arellano used the El Paso ISD’s data and other research to sell the program to DISD administrators and board members. “Why wouldn’t we want to try this program?” Arellano said. “We’re one of the districts with the highest percentage of ELLs in the Valley. We’re at about 48 percent and these children are struggling. This program will help them learn to read and write in English and Spanish because at the end of it all, no matter what subject they take, they need to be able to read and write to succeed.”

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