What do you get when you combine early exposure to a second language with being a principal at an elementary school? The answer: a dual language program that’s been going strong for 10 years.
Sharon Harper, principal at Hopewell Elementary School, started her school’s dual language program 10 years ago. Her goal was to ensure students received early access to another language.
“My primary reason for knowing it would be an effective way in which to educate students is because of my own life experience,” Harper shared.
Harper was exposed to Spanish as a young child, and then studied the language in high school and as a foreign exchange student. She said those experiences are why she can speak Spanish today.
As principal of the school, she wanted those same enriching experiences for her students.
With a leap of faith and one Spanish dual language teacher, Hopewell Elementary welcomed its first class of dual language students in the 2007-08 school year.
By October or November, children were already responding to the teacher in Spanish.
“I have found the dual language teachers to be very intelligent and willing to do whatever it is for the success of their students – beyond the school day if necessary,” Harper said.
She also noticed a change in the other educators at her school. As they saw students learning another language, they wanted to innovate their own instructional practices to improve student achievement.
“[Teachers said] ‘We need to be sure we’re offering a lot of critical thinking activities, project-based learning to really accelerate and engage students in learning,'” Harper said.
When the first class of dual language students took their End of Grade tests (EOGs) in third grade, Harper noted that the results were outstanding.
“In both reading and math, my third grade students in the dual language class outscored all the other traditional classes in third grade,” Harper said. “This has to speak volumes about how valuable dual language is, no matter what language they’re being immersed in.”
The dual language program has also brought an appreciation of other countries and cultures to the community. Parents now enroll their children in Hopewell Elementary for the program and see the value in bilingualism.
The students in the first dual language class are now sophomores in high school. Some of them tutor current students as part of their coursework.
The legacy of dual language at Hopewell Elementary will continue for years to come, thanks to the hard work of the staff, students, and community.
“I already thought we were a good school; we are now a great school,” Harper said. “[Dual language] lifted us up to that next level of professionalism, differentiating instruction, engaging activities for all students and being at the cusp of new and innovative instructional practices. We are there.”