• by Hilaria Bauer, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • November – December 2000 •
Last year I found myself driving to yet another new town. The place I was looking for was Mora, New Mexico. As I drove from Santa Fe to Las Vegas – where I had detoured on my search for Mora – I kept thinking, “How in the world do I get myself into these assignments?” I was about to find out.
After driving for the longest 40 minutes in history, I arrived in Mora. There I would talk about Project FLAIR (Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal), one of IDRA’s very effective staff development programs. I was greeted by the assistant superintendent of Mora Public Schools. He wanted to tell me about one of his district’s main concerns, language recapture.
The idea of recapturing language started with Mora’s Educational Plan for Student Success (EPSS) committee. The EPSS committee was composed of community members, school staff, parents and students. Some of the district’s data reflected Mora students doing well on standardized testing but not being able to take Advanced Placement Spanish courses in high school or at the university level.
The committee felt that something was missing when Hispanic students who were able to converse with their families in Spanish were not able to perform well academically in the language. Also, the committee felt that the culture – the way of life as New Mexican-Hispanics – was being lost. They wanted to preserve it in their community as much as possible.
According to an elementary principal who was a member of the EPSS committee, the committee had perceived the need for students to become bilingual and biliterate in order to obtain an edge in the job market and an opportunity for a better way of life. An idea evolved to teach Spanish to primarily English-speaking Hispanic students.
The assistant superintendent wanted to find out if our staff development model would be useful for his teachers as they attempted to introduce and develop academic Spanish to a generation of Mora’s students who had grown up hearing some casual Spanish from their guelitos and guelitas [grandparents]. My response to that was, “Absolutamente, claro qué! sí! [Absolutely, but of course! Yes!]”
The Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) South Central Collaborative for Equity (SCCE) is the equity assistance center that serves schools and education agencies in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas in the areas of race, gender and national origin equity. IDRA creates high-powered assistance for local education agencies through one-on-one interaction – such as training in the value of diversity and preventing sexual harassment – and other support assistance – such as training packages, videos and technical assistance modules.
We met with a group of administrators and teachers in order to decide what was needed for this site’s intervention. As we brainstormed ideas, we identified three major categories for the development of a dual language program in Mora. This model provides dual language instruction to bilingual and monolingual English speakers.
The three categories being addressed are curriculum development, staff training and identification of appropriate materials. We set priorities and decided to begin with staff training. We have learned that administrators and teachers who have information and decision-making skills are better at designing curriculum and choosing materials.
After designing our plan of action for staff training, we began identifying relevant information for the initiative and effective instructional strategies to match the goal. The elementary school principal and the middle school principal provided the first area of information collection. Both were able to provide the group with support and information about the need for academic language development in Mora, in English and in Spanish.
For a number of years, Mora’s staff had been wanting to preserve the area’s culture and provide a challenging curriculum to empower students with a healthy sense of who they are and where they come from. In addition, the staff has been determined to equip students to perform well academically in the different subject areas. As a result, teachers began to develop thematic units that were based on a pedagogy of “place.”
Place pedagogy guides students to understand their reality first as a means to connect to the broader global community. Without negating the importance of having a sense of responsibility toward the global community, place pedagogy argues that children cannot comprehend, much less feel a commitment toward, issues and problems in distant places until they have a well-grounded knowledge of their own place. The place that one inhabits can teach about the interdependency of social and natural systems (Arenas, 1999).
In the beginning, the units were offered only at the middle school level and were driven by the teachers involved in the initiative. Teachers at the middle school developed units that had a very regional flavor. Some of the topics included a unit on “Remedios” and another on “The Woods of Mora.”
As we at IDRA introduced Project FLAIR to the group, a better sense for curriculum development for the whole district began to emerge. Teachers and staff began to question how they could help their students become biliterate as they integrate the state’s curriculum. They began to answer their own questions as they developed Mora’s dual language curriculum.
In Mora, the dual language curriculum incorporates three basic components.
What to teach.
Across grade levels, teachers wanted to introduce students to their own town, their culture and their language. As students progress through the different grade levels, they will encounter, during the first nine weeks of school, more in-depth information about Mora. Kindergarten students begin with basic facts about Mora, while middle school students go back in time to encounter Mora’s first Spanish arrivals and their interactions with Mora’s native populations. The lessons integrate language, authentic literature, music, and social and natural science elements.
How to teach.
Dual language instruction by definition requires two languages. Thus, the team had to decide when and how these languages needed to be instructed and used. As the curriculum emerged, decisions about “which language when” were made, and the lessons began to reflect the planning.
The team also identified powerful instructional strategies to assure the content was learned. Cooperative learning and a balanced approach to literacy were selected to deliver instruction. In addition, teachers received staff development in Spanish language arts. Many teachers wanted to polish their own Spanish skills. They wanted to know how to instruct in academic Spanish. The team allowed the regional language to be used, with the addition of the standard version of the language, in order to help students understand some of the literature chosen.
Materials to use.
The process of materials selection begins taking place after knowing what things need to be addressed. Teachers and staff have been looking for materials that are relevant to the initiative and, in the process, they have learned to discard unnecessary materials. One of the principals shared with me how this was the first year teachers had to justify their selections according to the curriculum, which helped the school to allocate resources more effectively.
The effort in Mora is still in progress. The team is working on how to finish the curriculum for the whole year. However, last year’s test scores in both schools were very promising.
As for me, I must report that my relationship with this project has provided me with tremendous opportunities for professional and personal growth. I am a fervent advocate of bilingual education, and having had the opportunity to work with Mora has allowed me to understand how wide is the spectrum for bilingualism in our country.
On a more personal note… I would like to say “Mil Gracias IDRA!” for the unbelievable opportunity of working with so many fabulous people around the nation and across the waters. I am moving to California with my family. My husband has accepted a pastoral job in San José, and I will be directing some vertical slice programs with East Side Union High School District. A todos muchisimas gracias y nos vemos en Califas!
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Hilaria Bauer, M.A., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November – December 2000 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]