Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Hola to the Future

Bilingual Classes Ready Students for Diversity

Madelin Fuerste

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

April 23, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

As America grows more diverse, communities want schools to prepare students for a multicultural future.

Dubuquers attending the Envision: 2010 meetings have taken that wish one step further: They not only want well-prepared students, they want a bilingual education for them as well.

Eileen LeMay, a member of the Envision steering committee, watched the educational goal surface and resurface as the original list of thousands of ideas was whittled to 10.

"If we're going to be growing and we want to attract global corporations, they need people who can speak German or Spanish and other languages," LeMay said.

As manager of Iowa Workforce Development, LeMay sees the need for students to know other languages.

"Now is the time for members of our community with kids who go to school to step up to the plate to see the value in this goal," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind this is one of the best of the 10 goals and it's important for everyone."

Seventeen volunteers are trying to make bilingual education a reality for Dubuque-area students.

Curriculum Director Todd Wessels, Chief Administrator Steve Cornelius, and teacher Rebecca Fabricius, all from Holy Family Catholic Schools, are among those advocating a bilingual curriuculum.

Wessels points to the overwhelming amount of research that illustrates the benefits of a bilingual education.

"It's a skill our kids need to have," he said. "It's a 21st century skill."

The group also includes John Burgart, superintendent of Dubuque Community Schools.

"No one in the community has stepped forward as the clear leader of the idea, so there is still plenty of opportunity for people who feel strongly about this to come forward," he said. "It's an absolute blank slate."

Holy Family points to its Spanish Immersion Program at Our Lady of Guadalupe as an early model for a bilingual program. The program began four years ago with a kindergarten class of 13.

Now, in kindergarten, 80 percent of class instruction is taught in Spanish and 20 percent in English. By fifth grade, teaching time is split evenly between Spanish and English.

Fabricius teaches the class each year along with a teacher fluent in Spanish.

The Envision committee, she said, is keeping an open mind as to what the program might look like.

"When we think of languages, we tend to think of French, German, Spanish and even Latin in the schools, but there are so many languages in the global marketplace that I think we would behoove ourselves to expose our children to those during the window of critical language development," she said.

While the Our Lady of Guadalupe program is growing at Holy Family, Fabricius said there are many models to consider.

"We're looking at things maybe we hadn't looked at before," she said. "There may be ways to expand this beyond one language. I also think there is untapped linguistic and cultural diversity in Dubuque."

Burgart said the first few meetings drew a brainstorm of initial ideas.

"What would a bilingual education mean, and what would it look like? What would be some beginning steps? And, what would it mean to learn a second language whether you're talking about a kindergartner or an adult learner?" he asked.

Anyone interested in helping is welcome.

"Maybe, if there were grassroots families that see the benefit of a bilingual education, it would strengthen the whole initiative," LeMay said.