Many students don’t start learning a language until they’re introduced to a foreign language class in high school.
But kindergartners who attend Braden River Elementary School next year could start learning Spanish in the school’s new dual language program.
Braden River Elementary will be the third school in the School District of Manatee County and the only school in East County to implement a dual language program that teaches students English and Spanish.
“We’re moving to be a school of innovation by offering unique programs and problem-based learning,” said Joshua Bennett, the principal at Braden River Elementary. “The superintendent has placed it here because we are one of the oldest East County schools. Therefore, our boundaries have been drawn for a long time, and we rely heavily on [school] choice and hardship.”
Bennett said 65% of the school’s families attend the school by school choice or hardship.
Blanche H. Daughtrey Elementary is in its second year of the dual language program, and this year is the first year of the program at G.D. Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary.
Two kindergarten classes at Braden River Elementary with 18 students in each class will be dedicated to the dual language program.
Debra Estes, the director of English to speakers of other languages, migrant and dual language programs for the School District of Manatee County, said half the students will be English language learners and the other half will be English speakers.
“We mix the kids, so the kids create their own support networks as they build their friendships and work with each other in the classroom,” Estes said.
Students will share two teachers with one teaching entirely in English and the other entirely in Spanish. Students will spend half the school day learning in English and the other half learning in Spanish.
Assignments and homework will be done in both English and Spanish.
“Bi-literacy is so important when we’re creating global learners,” Estes said. “These are children who are going to have an advantage as they get older and are completely bi-literate. It’s almost necessary for students whether they go on to college, go into career and technical education or whatever path. It’s going to open doors for them.”
Students in the program will stay together as they progress through elementary school.
“By second, third grade they start grasping the language and hopefully become bilingual,” Bennett said. “The ultimate goal is to be bi-literate.”
Bennett said starting to learn a second language as a kindergartner will be easier than waiting until high school because high school students are “set in their ways.”
“You look at kids in pre-K and kindergarten, and they are malleable and so outside the box in their thinking,” Bennett said. “They’re activating all the different parts of their brain that it’s just a natural fit for that learning to occur versus when you’re 11 or 12 years into your educational career and you’re set on a path.”