A Closer Look at Dual Language Immersion Schools: Jackson Elementary - SpanglishBaby.com

Editor’s note: In the next months, we’ll be bringing you interviews with those who have first-hand experience with dual language immersion schools or programs: the parents who have their kids enrolled in them. The idea is to give you a closer look at what these programs are really like, how and why they work, as well as some of the challenges they face. Thanks to our contributor Elsie for coming up with this great idea!

Today, I’m happy to share my second interview with a Jackson Elementary Spanish Immersion parent, Liliana Awori.

Jackson Elementary is located in Pasadena, California on a lovely campus which includes an outdoor classroom and school garden. As Liliana notes, the biggest challenge for this school is perception as its neighborhood is mixed socioeconomically and they have been increasing test scores. Upon my visit to the campus, the students seemed happy and the community feeling was quite warm and inviting. It was one of the schools in our district with a library and part-time librarian (many do not have librarians at all). It can also boast it’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program which sets it apart from other immersion programs.

SpanglishBaby: Many of our readers are bilingual themselves, and hope to pass this legacy on to their children. However, there are also many Spanglishbaby readers who are monolingual. When did you become interested in bilingual education and why? Is it an old or new tradition for your family?

Liliana: My oldest daughter attends Jackson ES DLIP Kindergarten. My husband is Kenyan and is bilingual (English and Swahili). I am a first generation immigrant from Honduras. My parents were bilingual (English and Spanish) but I was never taught Spanish. My mother’s mindset was along the lines of “You are in America. You speak English.” As a result I’ve always felt disconnected from my heritage. I want my children to have a connection to some portion of their heritage. I heard about Pasadena Unified School District language classes back in 2008; I was intrigued and excited. After much research and speaking to other parents participating in the program we felt like it would be a great option for our family.

SB: What is your school’s educational philosophy? (Ex. play-based, traditional, developmental, etc.)

Liliana: Jackson’s educational philosophy is traditional with a particular focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The STEM program was one of the major draws for us. The science classroom and science teacher are impressive. Half the kindergarteners go to the science lab once a week, where the focus is mostly on life science. During science the other half of the class is in our community garden. In the garden they plant seeds, weed their bed and water the rest of the garden. Our classroom has a fire-belly newt named Panchito, they’ve also raised caterpillars/butterflies and a worm farm. In addition to the STEM program, Jackson has a partnership with the Center for Arts at the Amory. My daughter is thriving and loving learning.

SB: What was the transition like for your child when they started school? How did you notice their language ability evolve over time?

Liliana: My daughter has friends who are bilingual, she was anxious to learn Spanish “so I can talk to Mateo”. We participated in the Pasadena Educational Foundation summer program, which was an introduction to kindergarten DLIP. After the first two days in the program, she cried and refused to go to class. Complaining that her head hurt and she didn’t know what the teachers were saying. However after the first week she happily went to class all summer and even taught her younger sisters some of the Spanish she was learning. When the school year began she was ready to go, there was still some talk about not understanding her teacher but it wasn’t much. As to her language ability an excellent example occurred during the class holiday/Christmas party. I and another Spanish speaking mom were serving the children, and I needed the mom to pass me a plate. My daughter saw me searching for the Spanish words and came to my rescue and translated the request. I was completely floored, I knew she was learning Spanish but I had never heard her speak naturally and spontaneously.

SB: Language is not only an intellectual skill, but also a social skill. How has learning Spanish enriched your student’s social experiences and friendships?

Liliana: My daughter has always been an outgoing person, we call her the mayor of Jackson and now with Spanish she is even more able to make friends. She has even offered her translating service to our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Harris. When she found out that Mrs. Harris had to let go of the Latino pool guy her response was “You know I can communicate with him, if Mrs. Harris needs me too.”

SB: How does your school incorporate Latino/a culture and celebrate the diverse backgrounds of its students?

Liliana: Acknowledgement of diversity has been woven throughout the curriculum by using authentic folklore, fieldtrips and special classroom guest. During Hispanic Heritage Month we had a fun slide show of our own school staff from Latino countries, the DLIP teacher, M. Tovar, was even included in the El Salvador slide. Our staff is a mirror of our student population, from diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups. The staff works to model positive interrelations so that the students will do the same. Our class also participated in the Cesar Chavez Essay and Art Contest.

SB: What is the experience like for parents at your school? How much parent involvement is encouraged?

Liliana: When the school year started, I was ready to jump into volunteering and helping anyway I could. It was obvious to me that the administration was very supportive of parent participation. There is a parent group that runs the garden and leads garden classes. The DLIP kindergarten also has “Friday Fun Day” every week, which is planned and executed solely through parent volunteers. The PTA even sponsored a volunteer challenge, the class that had the most volunteer hours would win a fieldtrip, and the participation was astounding.

SB: No school is perfect. What are some of the challenges, budgetary or otherwise that prospective parents should be aware of?

Liliana: Perception is Jackson’s greatest challenge. People assume because of the socioeconomic make up of our neighborhood and our past test scores that Jackson is a failing school. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our test scores have been on the rise the past three years. Our faculty is dedicated and innovative in their approach to teaching. Our students compete and participate in district wide programs with the support of their families. A modernization of the campus was completed in the spring of 2012. I believe if we could get more perspective parents to visit Jackson they would be pleasantly surprised with all the great things happening there.

SB: What is your child’s daily schedule?

Liliana: Our schedule is pretty straight forward we have school 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., after school she has about an hour of downtime for snack and play, then it’s homework time for 30 to 45 minutes. Once a week she has gymnastics, we also make a weekly visits to the Altadena Public Library and Altadena Farmers Market.

SB: What does your child love most about your school?

Liliana: My daughter loves recess like most kids, but academically she loves the science essaylab.org with all the live specimens.

SB: How can a prospective parent learn more about your school and enrollment?

Liliana: Please feel free to call the front office and arrange a tour (626) 396-5700.

{Photo courtesy of Liliana Awori}

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