LYNNWOOD — Alex Toro used to dread going to school.
He couldn’t understand what anybody was saying.
That changed last year when Alex, 6, started kindergarten in the Edmonds School District’s new dual-language program. Now he gets to read and write in his first language, Spanish.
His mother, Faviola Hernández, said Alex now loves school so much he wishes he could sleep there overnight.
Until this year, Alex attended an English-only school. He was always confused, his mom said. When Hernández and her husband, Ismael Toro, heard about the program through College Place Elementary, they decided to give it a try.
“At first, I considered pulling him out because I was worried he wouldn’t learn English,” Hernández said in Spanish. “But his teachers assured me he would learn both English and Spanish. When he graduates from high school, he will be bilingual.”
Last fall, the Edmonds School District launched its English-Spanish dual language program in kindergartens at two schools — College Place and Cedar Valley Community School. Each year, the district plans to add another grade level to the program until it’s open to all ages.
In the program’s inaugural year, kindergarten classes are taught 90% of the time in Spanish and 10% in English, said Mary Williams, the district’s director of multilingual education. As students get older, that ratio will change. By the time they reach middle school, it will be 50%-50%.
At College Place, about 50% of the student body is Hispanic. The English-Spanish program is open to students with any first language, including those who don’t speak either.
“The biggest reason we’re doing this program is because we are empowering the students,” Williams said. “So they can ultimately be stronger students in both languages. There’s evidence that shows when you’re strong in your first language, it supports you in growing and becoming stronger in your second language.”
Carla Carrizosa is the principal of College Place. She said the program unifies people.
“I myself am bilingual and bi-literate,” Carrizosa said. “This program offers families the opportunity to be able to use their home language in a way that will educate their students, be it Spanish or English.”
The principal said the district is brainstorming similar programs for other languages, such as Vietnamese.
Families who don’t speak English at home often feel pressured to prioritize teaching their children to read and write in English, so they don’t fall behind in school. This can cause feelings of shame for students who are forced to leave their first languages behind at school.
“Right now, for the students who speak Spanish as a home language, there’s a sense of pride — pride that they’re not only speaking their language, but they’re learning to read and write their language,” Carrizosa said.
Carrizosa said the dual-language program has inspired cultural respect in school leadership. The school’s Parent Teacher Association members are predominately white, Carrizosa said. In a recent meeting, parents asked the principal how to diversify the PTA so it accurately represents the student body.
“I feel like our dual language is spearheading those interactions,” Carrizosa said. “For the PTA to say: ‘Look, we’re all white ladies here, and we want to change that. We want to see PTA become more inclusive.’”
The program enables parents who don’t speak English, such as Hernández, to be able to help their children with homework.
Hernández and her husband moved to Lynnwood from Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2002. She said they considered moving back to Mexico in 2018 when her father was diagnosed with cancer, but they decided to stay in the United States so Alex would have more opportunities. She said Alex has been so much happier since he started kindergarten.
“He will come home and be so proud,” she said. “He will talk about reading and writing activities in Spanish.”
And though the first year is mostly taught in Spanish, Hernández said, her son’s English has also improved. He has made friends with English-speaking students, she said, and they talk in English at recess sometimes.
“Being bilingual will open up so many doors for Alex,” she said. “With job options but also to help other people, even just at the grocery store — if one person feels more comfortable because someone understands what they’re saying, they feel less alone.”
Hernández heard about the kindergarten program from a friend.
“It benefits so many Hispanic children living here,” she said. “So many people lose all their Spanish when they go to school in the United States.”
An informational Zoom meeting about the program will take place from 6:30 to 7:30 pm Tuesday.
Interested in your child learning in both English and Spanish?
Children entering kindergarten or first grade for the 2022-23 school year can apply to be part of the Edmonds School District dual language program. For more information, visit the school’s website.
¿Le interesa que su hijo(a) aprenda dos idiomas?
The program of language dual español/inglés del Distrito Edmonds está abierto para las/os entrantes de kindergarten y 1st grado para el año escolar 2022 a 2023. Para mayor información, ir al site web de la escuela.
Quotes by Faviola Hernández were translated from Spanish to English, with her permission, by Herald reporter Ellen Dennis.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.