Educators at Mark Twain Middle School have prepared an unusual classroom.
Inside the quiet room, desks are arranged in groups. Each wall is plastered in educational material -- all of it, down to the pencil holders, is labeled in English and Spanish.
"It's immersion,” Dr. Mario Ferron said.
Dr. Ferron, SAISD’s dual language coordinator, designed the room based off of similar classes in Texas. It’s part of a new dual-language immersion program to which the school is transitioning.
The middle school will be replaced with an academy where students will start Pre-K learning mostly in Spanish. By third or fourth grade, they’ll learn half the time in Spanish and half the time in English.
“So, for example, they will take math in English all year round, and science and social studies in Spanish all year round,” Dr. Ferron explained.
It is a concept that has been used before in Bexar County. But starting next school year, Mark Twain Middle School will be the only Bexar County school fully dedicated to this concept.
"The power of two languages is very important,” Principal Rick Flores said. “We call it 'valorando por dos,' valuing our students twice as much."
Over the next couple years, SAISD will expand that idea considerably. Olivia Hernandez, the district’s assistant superintendent for bilingual, ESL, and migrant programs, says that their goal is to have 10 schools with dual language programs in the next couple of years. That will grow to around 20 schools in the next five years, all with the a goal of making the district almost fully bilingual.
“In all the elementary schools where possible,” Hernandez noted. “More than anything, students will achieve high academic and cognitive levels, and they'll be able to get along with different cultures and different races."
The reason, she says, is based on research which claims that bilingual fluency is not only useful in life, but actually alters development to aid cognitive ability.
The district expects that all students will read and write in Spanish by third grade, and be fully literate in both languages by fifth grade.
"So by the time they get to middle school, they start developing college-level proficiency,” said Dr. Ferron, adding that the concept will help all students, regardless of their native language.
He also said that successful programs have been demonstrated in Texas before.
"The beauty of dual language is that it works and it works for all."