Bilingual program helping Palm Beach County students
PALM BEACH COUNTY, Florida – Bilingual, bi-literate and multicultural. These are just a few of the skills that students can acquire by taking bilingual programs.
Experts say children who face new obstacles and challenges when they migrate to the United States or learn a new language could benefit. This is where bilingual teachers in schools play a big role.
SPECIAL COVER: Hispanic Heritage Month
Irene Collado is a dual language teacher and is part of the Okeeheelee Middle School International Spanish Academy, the first in the country.
âIt is one of my passions to teach my language, my mother tongue and also the different very righteous cultures of the 19 countries that speak Spanish,â Collado said.
She was recruited in Spain three years ago to teach. The academy offers students training in English and Spanish.
It is supported by the Florida Department of Education and the Spain Department of Education.
“We are also working with the grammar, the vocabulary, the new vocabulary that they still have to acquire, and we are also carrying out projects,” said Collado. “I’m also proud to watch them, you know, explain where they’re from and where the families are from.”
Samuel Pereira and Isabella are eighth grade students at the academy. Both say it improved their writing and speaking skills in Spanish while also learning more about their Latin American roots.
âTo connect more with my culture because I was born here. I was able to learn more about it,â Samuel said.
âYou can practice both your language and it’s good for your future,â Isabella said.
Alexandria Ayala, who is currently the only Latina on the school board, represents District Two, which is predominantly Latino.
âThis is so important to our students. Students who already come from countries of Hispanic or Latin descent feel so heard, represented and have the ability to truly evolve in their culture and history,â said Ayala.
Ayala said these programs reflect the educational needs of their Spanish speaking students. Prepare them to compete and succeed in a global society.
“Our Hispanic student population is currently our highest percentage. We are approximately 37% of the students we serve being the largest category and who are of Hispanic and Latin descent. This is not going to slow down,” said Ayala. “We have a lot of movements coming to South Florida. Palm Beach County is growing at a very high rate. We want to be prepared to serve these students and their families at the highest level possible.”
To do this, Ayala said she hires and retains qualified teachers who can communicate with their students in their native language while teaching other students. But the pool is very competitive since other school districts across the country have similar programs.
âWe traveled to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico to work with career fairs and find educators and recruit them to come and work with us,â Ayala said. “We also work with H1 visas, like the program you see that fulfills our ISA roles with our Spanish teachers, our teachers who come from Spain and can work in our system. We work with different embassies in different countries to make the process smoother. “
For Collado, she said it had been rewarding and had grown as an educator.
âIn Spain I was teaching English as a Foreign Language. Now that I have experienced what it is like to teach your own mother tongue and talk about your culture and the culture of other Hispanic countries, I think it’s going to be very difficult for me to go back to my previous experience, âsaid Collado.