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Michelle Carvajal '18 and Yury Cardona '18 teach a dual language program at Nathanael Greene Elementary in Pawtucket

“Buenos Días!” “Good Morning!”

Every day, pioneers Yury Cardona '18 and Michelle Carvajal '18 shape their students’ educational experiences through two languages at Nathanael Greene Elementary School – the only school in Pawtucket currently implementing a dual language program. The dual language English teacher is ESL-certified and the dual language Spanish teacher has a bilingual certification.

According to Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), expanding student access to dual language and world language instruction creates more cultural, educational, economic, cognitive and socio-cultural advantages. “The diversity of Rhode Island is an asset that will help us prepare our graduates for success in a local and global society,” emphasizes RIDE, in their 2020 strategic plan. Dual language programs such as Pawtucket’s aim to accomplish exactly this goal – provide Rhode Island’s children with the abilities to ensure successful careers in the global economy.

Currently four school districts in Rhode Island — Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and South Kingstown — offer dual language programs, typically in English and Spanish, in a total of 10 elementary schools across the state. 

“Dual language programs help students learn all content areas in two languages to develop bilingualism and bi-literacy in all students,” according to Sarah Hesson, assistant professor and co-director of the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) program in Rhode Island College’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development.

Many schools use a 50/50 model, which splits students' time equally between the languages, Hesson says. Other schools use a 90/10 model, in which students learn in the dominant language (English) for 10 percent of the day and the additional language for 90 percent of the day. 

Like RIDE, both Cardona and Carvajal believe that the future of Rhode Island is in their students’ hands. “The skills acquired in the program will aid the students in expanding their cultural knowledge as they interact in a diverse world,” emphasizes Cardona. “Our program encourages our kids to be unique. We strive to help them discover how valuable they are as individuals and show how they can contribute positively to society. Plus, our program encourages generosity, respect and humility.”
Yury Cadona '18 in her Pawtucket classroom

“The program is implemented in such a way that students are able to make meaning of the world they live in, creating cross-cultural competence and awareness,” says Carvajal. “By having an ESL-certified teacher and a bilingual certified Spanish teacher, students receive grade-level content that helps them make real-life connections and find similarities to their traditions, cultural history, location and even gastronomy.”  

“We see our students developing proficiency in both languages through relevant material while improving communication skills, gaining confidence in their speaking abilities and fostering relationships with their classroom peers and educators,” expresses Carvajal. 

Erin Papa, assistant professor of world language education and educational studies at Rhode Island College, has been passionately advocating for this kind of program for years, working to develop the Rhode Island Roadmap to Language Excellence with the Rhode Island Foreign Language Association (RIFLA) and the Coalition for a Multilingual Rhode Island.
“Teaching our children multiple languages starting early is a great investment that will increase their competitiveness in an increasingly global economy, making their multilingual skills grow over the course of their educational careers,” adds Papa. “We urge Rhode Island to commit to developing our languages and providing pathways to multilingualism for all students.”
Michelle Carvajal '18 in her Pawtucket classroom

Despite such intended benefits, bilingual programs are still relatively rare. The most prevalent challenges to implementing dual language programs are bilingual teacher shortages, the erroneous belief that the programs are more expensive, or underlying monolingual ideologies that do not value bilingualism as a resource or asset to students and the wider community, explains Hesson. 

“Here at Rhode Island College we have worked hard to create a master’s [program] in TESOL and a certification program for bilingual education teachers,” Hesson adds. “We also plan to reach out to bilingual teachers in the field who have a base certificate but do not yet have bilingual education certification.” Both programs lead to bilingual/dual language certification from RIDE.

“Research consistently shows that students learning in dual language programs outperform even their monolingual English-speaking peers on English language standardized tests. While these tests are not the most important measure of student success, the research clearly shows that dual language/bilingual programs are successful and critically important for bilingual students and communities,” concludes Hesson.