Joyful shouts and chatter in English and Spanish filled the halls of Jackson Hole High School last week for an annual celebration of the dual immersion program.
Dual immersion — meaning equal numbers of native Spanish speakers and English speakers share a classroom and learn half the day in each language — is a program Teton County School District introduced in 2009. The program is designed to help bring up the test scores of students who don’t speak English as their first language, while promoting multiculturalism.
The year-end celebration is a time to showcase the work of the students in the program and gather families for a potluck dinner. There are roughly 600 students in the program, which spans kindergarten through eighth grade currently and will expand into high school in the fall.
A variety of projects were displayed throughout the halls and the rotunda. Fourth-graders’ work included artistic interpretations of Aesop’s Fables, while the seventh-graders focused on the idea of planting seeds for change in projects that covered topics like making the “American dream” more inclusive.
Katie Clark, a special education teacher for the dual immersion program, said she found the mingling of cultures to be special.
“Every population is represented in the program,” Clarke said.
Clarke said she has seen not only her students’ but also their parents’ cultural competency increase thanks to being in the program. She enjoyed seeing her students at the event who have gotten older and moved to different buildings.
But the best part of the night, she said, was “how cool it is to see the newcomers chatting away in English with their friends.”
“When they first came in they didn’t know English at all,” Clarke said.
The high school auditorium was packed with families and children watching their students perform, switching between languages. A group of eighth-grade students — the first ones in the dual immersion program — acted as deejays.
Third-graders made a video about learning the flamenco and the macarena dances. Another group of students made a parody video of Carly Rae Jepsen’s popular song “Call Me Maybe” titled “It’s Culture Baby.”
The night was a glimpse of what the new dual immersion school, slated to open in fall 2018 at Munger Mountain Elementary School, will be.
Fifth-grade dual immersion teacher Wendy Hultman has taught in the program since it began in 2009. She has seen it improve over the years, thanks to “a lot of collaboration and professional development.”
She said the program has altered her approach to education.
“For me as a teacher it’s changed how I teach social injustices,” Hultman said. “I’m more culturally responsive in how I choose literature. I think about it with every lesson I teach.”
For example, when Hultman teaches about European explorers she makes sure to incorporate the indigenous perspective first.
“Dual immersion makes me think about culture in everything I teach,” she said. “There’s never just one perspective. I want to raise a child who has a multicultural perspective.”
That’s one of the reasons why parent Gregg Otto wanted his two daughters, in fourth and sixth grades, to join the program.
“They’re using their brains to the best of their abilities,” he said. “This is a good opportunity. I don’t think they realize how cool it is.”
Mothers Margarita Zarate and Maria Bedolla Perez wanted their daughters to enter the program so they could fluently speak Spanish and English. They said their daughters, who are friends and cousins, want to work on their English at night together.
“It really is beautiful,” Perez said. “The dual program really is beautiful.”
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