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Language Learning

Bilingual Education Leads to Greater Equity

Monday marked the beginning of another school year at E.E. Miller Elementary School in Fayetteville, N.C. As students walked to their classrooms, teachers greeted them in not just one, but two languages.

E.E. Miller has a full Spanish immersion program, meaning teachers conduct 90 percent of instruction in Spanish, and the remaining ten percent in English.

This year is a special one at E.E. Miller, as it’s the tenth year as a language immersion school.

Celebrating language learning

In 2007, E.E. Miller Elementary started its language program with its first cohort of students. The school was home to the first language immersion program in Cumberland County Schools. Today, it has grown to all grade levels, K-5.

Gerald Hernandez, principal at E.E. Miller, said that when students come to the language program they’re not only coming to a new curriculum, but a new place and a new community.

“There’s so many possibilities,” Hernandez said. “There’s going to be a lot of pay off in the end for a student who becomes bilingual.”

Rocio Evans, former Spanish immersion teacher at E.E. Miller and current Dual Language Specialist at Participate, said starting the immersion program was not easy, but well worth it.

“When we started implementing that first school in Cumberland County, there were no other teachers you could use as reference,” Evans said. “We had a small group of teachers that we could turn to and share resources with.”

Evans said music became her best friend in teaching her students Spanish. “I started teaching students songs and suddenly they would start ‘speaking’ phrases that I just put music to,” she said.

The rewards of bilingualism, both academically and personally, are unmatched. Evans said that she is still in contact with the parents and students from her first class at E.E. Miller.

Parent and community support has been monumental for the program’s success, Hernandez said. “They have to be very confident that what we’re doing in the program is making some global learners out of our students,” Hernandez said.

Going global

In addition to language immersion, Hernandez said the school started infusing global learning into all classrooms in 2016 to establish more equitable experiences for all students.

Walking through the halls you can see the appreciation of different cultures. Hernandez said the cultural learning experiences at E.E. Miller are forming empathetic, global citizens.

“We all had faith that our passion for languages and cultures would bring academic success,” Evans said. Now, ten years later, the Spanish immersion program at E.E. Miller proves to be successful and thriving. Thanks to the hard work of current and former educators, that success will continue for years to come.

For part 1 of this series, see 10 years later, students see great gains from language immersion.