Moroni two-way dual immersion breaking down ethnic barriers

Hannah Holbrook points out the day’s weather in Spanish to her classmates including center, Mackenzie Thomson and Isaac Anderson.
Hannah Holbrook points out the day’s weather in Spanish to her classmates including center, Mackenzie Thomson and Isaac Anderson.




Moroni two-way dual immersion breaking down ethnic barriers


Linda Petersen

Staff writer




MORONI—Since it’s inception three years ago, Moroni Elementary has been making positive strides with its dual immersion teaching program.

With a Spanish emphasis, the school currently has first through third grades participating in the program. With dual immersion, students spend half of each day in the target language classroom (in this case Spanish) and the other half in an English classroom.

Most dual immersion schools in Utah are what is known as one-way immersion schools where students are English speakers and are learning in a new language. But Moroni, with its high percentage of native Spanish speakers (41 percent of students are Hispanic or of Hispanic descent), is a two-way immersion school. Native speakers in English and Spanish are learning the other language throughout their day.

“With this program, students are both bilingual and biliterate,” Principal Stacey Peterson said.

Dual immersion programs require two teachers for each class, one to teach in the target language and the other to teach in English. In larger schools, where there are more teachers per grade, it’s practice is to offer an additional English “strand” in each grade where everything is taught in English. But Moroni only has two teachers per grade, so it was an all-or-nothing proposition.

“It was kind of a risk,” to make the switch, Peterson said. “In the future, if we have kids beyond second-grade move in and they don’t have Spanish language and Spanish literacy skills, they can’t attend our school.”

On the plus side, Moroni Elementary has been able to pull students in from all over the school district that wanted to participate in a dual immersion program, she said.

This is the third year of dual immersion at Moroni Elementary. As the current third graders move up, Peterson will hire more Spanish-speaking teachers until eventually the whole school, except for kindergarten, will be dual immersion.

Kindergarten is omitted from the program because district officials determined that students need a solid grasp of English and to develop basic reading skills in kindergarten before entering the program, so kindergarten is taught solely in English.

As the program is integrated into the school, it is funded by a state grant which covers all materials to ensure that in the Spanish classrooms everything from the textbooks to the signs on the walls is 100 percent Spanish.

It all came about several years ago when then-Superintendent Leslie Keisel approached Peterson about introducing a dual immersion program at Moroni Elementary where she felt it would be particularly beneficial with the school’s high percentage of ESL students.

“There’s always been a gap socially with the language between the Hispanic students and the native English-speaking students,” Peterson said. “She had heard about the benefits of the dual immersion program, how it helps all students perform better on standardized tests and the classroom.”

At Moroni Elementary, through third-grade students learn most of their subjects in Spanish. These include the usuals: math, science, social studies and literacy.

“It’s not the way we traditionally learn a language,” Peterson said. “Normally when we do so we’re translating everything into English in our heads, but these kids are completely immersed in the new language. They don’t need to do that.”

During the English-speaking part of the day, they concentrate on English language and literacy skills – reading, writing, spelling and phonics, along with reinforcing the math concepts they learned in Spanish and their English terminology.

“Both teachers constantly collaborate to find out what kids need to be reinforced in either language,” Peterson said.

For struggling students, there’s what they call “Power Half Hour” where teacher’s assistants proficient in Spanish will work on language instruction with small groups. Three days a week students from the Latinos in Action group at the district’s middle school and high school also come in and tutor the students.

Currently, grades four through six are traditional English-speaking classrooms, but as the current third grade moves up, that will change. Then in fourth and fifth grade, the emphasis will shift, with most math and socials studies being taught in English with the reinforcement in Spanish. Then in sixth grade, having mastered those concepts, social science will again be taught in Spanish and science in English.

As students progress, there are courses available in the middle school grades, with the expectation that they will enroll in advanced placement Spanish classes and complete the AP exam in either ninth or 10th grade.

As well as the language benefits, Peterson has seen other positives from the program.

“The kids interact when they’re little, but in the past, by fourth grade, we would see the groups (Hispanic and native English speakers) divide,” she said. “We already see those barriers breaking down. We don’t see those divisions anymore.”

The counselors are also reporting that the confidence of the Hispanic students has increased tremendously, Peterson said.

Peterson admits there has been some pushback from parents who have been unable to help their children with homework in Spanish. They only send homework home in Spanish if the student can work on it independently. If requested, they will send the homework in English or an English version for parents so they can follow along and help their child.

Peterson also shows parents who have a Smartphone how easy it is to take a photo of the homework and have the free app Google Translate convert it to English on the spot.

The deadline to sign up for the program was Feb. 20, but parents wanting to enroll their child can do so as space is available in first grade on a first come, first serve basis. Students in second grade have through mid-year to sign up as space allows.