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Biliteracy program made available to Donna ISD kindergartners

Inside a kindergarten classroom in Alamo, students as young as five years old are learning how to read and write in two languages.

Inside a kindergarten classroom in Alamo, students as young as five years old are learning how to read and write in two languages.

On Tuesday, Captain D. Salinas Elementary students were translating a Spanish writing exercise from a previous day into English.

English-language learners are taught everything from math, reading and science in Spanish. Then, the same classes are taught in English days later.

Susana Cepeda, a second-grade teacher, is a Rio Grande Valley native and says as a bilingual person, she wants to give back.

"In the Valley, it's very important because of the high number of jobs that require you to be biliterate," Cepeda said.

Donna Independent School District says that the simultaneous biliteracy program is about using both languages equally.

"We want to capitalize on that,” said Gregorio Arellano, director of bilingual programs at Donna ISD. “We don't want that child to turn off their Spanish. We want the child to be who they are."

Arellano and Principal San Juanita Franco say that before, English for English-language learners would be prioritized, leaving Spanish to be undeveloped and only for the home.

"As a principal, monitoring that they are building both languages and that when they're speaking the English in the classroom, that they feel comfortable," Franco said.

"We went with the aggressive model if you want to say,” Arellano said. “We toggle between English and Spanish a lot more consecutively."

Arellano admitted that when he was young he would get spanked for speaking Spanish in school. Now, Spanish is taught in all subjects from kindergarten through 2nd grade in five of the district’s elementary schools.

School officials say they expect to add grades to the program year by year. The ultimate goal is for middle school students to complete high school level Spanish coursework and high school students to receive college credit.

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