Language Confidence Through Dual Immersion

“It was hard for me – I didn’t like going to school because it intimidated me. But getting adjusted to Spanish first, and then transitioning to English, developing that passion for learning that I got here at El Sol definitely aided me.”

Those words are a thoughtful reflection from a former eighth grader at El Sol Science and Arts Academy in Santa Ana, California. Since its founding in 2001 with just 110 students, El Sol continues to grow in both size—now at 1,000 students—and achievement for students, many of whom are English Learners. It starts with a stellar dual-immersion curriculum that teaches advanced levels of knowledge and proficiency in English and Spanish.

“I feel like the dual-immersion program is one of the best practices for English Learners,” said Andriana Zamora, a first-grade teacher at El Sol. “I have seen students come in at first grade [from Pre-K and kindergarten] and they have bloomed through dual language because most concepts are in their native language.”

El Sol uses the 90/10 Model, where in Pre-K and kindergarten 90 percent of the day is in Spanish, and 10 percent of the day is in English. That percentage goes up 10 percent every year until students get to fourth grade, when half the day is taught in Spanish and half in English.

“At that point, the expectation is that they are grade level literate, speaking, reading, writing, articulating in both English and Spanish,” said Monique Daviss, executive director of El Sol.

Teachers utilize the GLAD strategy, or Guided Language Acquisition Design. It aids teachers by providing new strategies for integrating instruction in English, including hands-on activities and games, rather than traditional worksheets.

“What I’ve found is that my students need pictures,” said Christina Delgado, a Spanish teacher. “They need to see what they’re reading. So how I help is by providing pictures. [For example] ‘Let’s draw the scene’ and ‘Show me what is going on.’”

“I couldn’t teach without GLAD strategies,” said Miriam Viega, a third-grade teacher. “You reach all levels of students.”

Another component of El Sol’s educational model is visual and performing arts activities. For song and performance, students practice in either English or Spanish. With visual arts, teachers are able to tie what the students are learning in the classroom with what they’re creating.

About half of the students who attend El Sol also take part in extended learning, which provides supplemental academic instruction for students who may need extra help after school. It provides an opportunity for students to not only finish their homework, but get extra practice on areas where they may be struggling and one-on-one intervention, where necessary.

El Sol uses data taken from the beginning of the school year to identify student needs. They look at their native language abilities, both English and Spanish levels, and math abilities, and then determine if intervention or extra support in the classroom is needed.

“We send progress reports every six weeks,” said Viega. “If the student is performing below level, we look at how many interventions they need to have.”

Davis said her school staff depends on this valuable data when it comes to the dual-immersion curriculum. “It’s so we really understand what our children are learning and the program that we’re delivering.”

El Sol’s approach of teaching students in English and Spanish are paying off. The school was named a Bright Spot Awardee by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics as well as the California Charter School of the Year and numerous other distinguished awards. El Sol climbed its API scores from 559 in 2003 to 880 in 2011, exceeding district and state averages and El Sol’s own target growth scores.

To learn more about El Sol Science and Arts Academy, click here. To watch a case study by the National Charter School Resource Center, click here.

Photos courtesy of El Sol Science and Arts Academy.