• by Frank Gonzales, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 1999
A popular song recorded by Dinah Washington in 1961 includes the lyrics: “What a difference a day made; twenty-four little hours brought the sun and the flowers where there used to be rain” (Grever, 1981). It describes how wonderful life can be when the right combination of factors occurs.
This same wonderful transformation can occur in a classroom or in a school when the “right” things happen. The Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) Project FLAIR (Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal) is one of the “right” things that has made a difference at La Casita Elementary School in Clovis, New Mexico, during the 1998-99 academic year.
As the name indicates, La Casita Elementary School is located in a barrio, a neighborhood of Hispanic homes, businesses and churches. The school has 425 students in kindergarten through sixth grade with 25 certified teachers.
La Casita Elementary School is the only school in the district with certified bilingual teachers at each grade level. Consequently, monolingual Spanish speakers from 11 other campuses travel by bus to La Casita Elementary School, unless their parents request otherwise.
In many communities, the demographics of a school are used to reinforce the deficit-model assumptions about students because of the ethnicity, language and socio-economic level of the families. But David Breseno, director of federal programs for the district, and Matthew Trujillo, principal of the school, saw the demographics as an opportunity to use the diversity of the campus and the home language of the children as a foundation for establishing a dual language program. Dual language programs provide integrated language and academic instruction for native English speakers and native speakers of another language. The goals are high academic achievement, first and second language proficiency, and cross-cultural understanding (Genesee, 1999). The district contracted with IDRA to implement Project FLAIR.
Project FLAIR is a three-year change process developed by IDRA in the early 1990s. It provides focused educational assistance to a district throughout the first year with a select group of teachers identified as a local task force.
The task force at La Casita Elementary School developed a vision statement: “La Casita Elementary will implement a dual language program that links the school, the home and the community by providing a language and technology rich curriculum that meets individual needs and develops biliteracy.” The vision statement is serving as basis for all activities during the three-year project.
During the first year, two or more IDRA staff members made seven two-day visits to the campus. During the September visit, IDRA staff met with each of the task force members, observed them working in their classrooms, provided feedback and gathered base-line data for the project. The November visit included an intensive two-day training process n which task force members established goals for the project, set dates for future visits and began the renewal process. All other visits from December to February involved actual classroom demonstrations with specific instructional strategies.
At the last meeting in of the year, members of the teacher task force shared how Project FLAIR has impacted them and their students. The following statements are some of the changes they enthusiastically described.
- “You gave me a set of new tools for teaching writing, higher order thinking, etc.”
- “I’m giving more ownership of learning to the students.”
- “We have to fill out competency cards, and I was used to teaching in blocks. FLAIR helped me to integrate math, science and social studies with authentic literature.”
- “It is bringing us together. We are focusing on the same path.”
When asked how the project has impacted their campus, teachers told of student success.
- “The students have become active learners rather than passive learners.”
- “Students are working very well in groups. They are taking pride in their progress.”
- “Students are also learning to respect each other and are now offering assistance to their peers.”
Other changes that have occurred at the school include the formation of a library committee, which has requested Spanish-language books and bilingual books for student and teacher use.
Task force teachers have shared the strategy training at their grade level meetings each month. This sharing has been extremely beneficial to the new teachers on campus. One teacher stated, “We are working together now as a team.”
The collaboration with other teachers not yet involved in Project FLAIR has increased and is an observable difference across the entire staff. Mr. Trujillo stated, “I’ve seen a difference in the way the teachers are teaching, in their interaction with the students and in how they help one another.”
Making a positive difference in the lives of children is what teaching is all about. In order to make that positive difference, teachers must feel empowered. Project FLAIR has made a real difference at La Casita Elementary School over the last year. What a difference a year made!
Genesee, F. (Ed.). Program Alternatives for Linguistically Diverse Students (Washington, D.C.: Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence, 1999).
Grever, M. “What a Difference a Day Made,” Reader’s Digest Festival of Popular Songs, Third edition, English translation into Spanish by S. Adams (Pleasantville, New York: Reader’s Digest Assoc., Inc., October 1981).
Frank Gonzales, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about IDRA’s Project FLAIR, see “Project FLAIR: Working Together for a Better Learning Environment,” by R. López, H. Bauer and J. García (IDRA Newsletter, June-July 1999) or contact Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., at 210/444-1710 or email@example.com.
[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 1999 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.]