A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Cardinal Valley Elementary’s innovative dual language program brings cultures together

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

Second-year Principal Kevin Disney is eager to gauge the impact of the revamped dual language strategy at Cardinal Valley Elementary, where three-quarters of the students are Hispanic and 55 percent are learning English as a second language.

“Dual language has been shown to be the most effective model,” he said. “We’re taking kids who are Spanish speakers and teaching them English and also Spanish. By the end of fifth grade, we expect them to be completely bi-literate – to read, write, speak, and listen in English and Spanish.”

According to Disney, brain research indicates bilingual children have an edge in problem-solving skills. Plus, the district’s Spanish Immersion Program becomes an option in middle and high school, along with earning a Seal of Biliteracy on their diploma.

Cardinal Valley actively affirms the diversity of its population, for instance, hanging flags in the library to represent the home countries of students and staff, and hosting a Hispanic Heritage Month event with community guests and children’s performances (Photo Provided)

When Cardinal Valley launched its program in 2014, the thinking was that Spanish-speaking kindergarteners would fare better in school if they built a solid academic foundation in their native language before tackling English. About 80 percent of their instruction was offered in Spanish, primarily in reading and math, while specials classes like P.E. and music and the language sessions were conducted in English.

The plan was for English instruction to gradually increase until third grade, when the breakdown reached 50/50.

The staff made minor changes when Disney came on board, and this year they really shifted the model. “Now, we do 50/50 from Day 1. They are learning two languages simultaneously instead of sequentially,” the principal explained.

Cardinal Valley is the only school in FCPS using the model of One-Way Simultaneous Biliteracy Dual Language Immersion. Its kindergarteners rotate daily between Spanish and English instruction, and the older students flip every two days. The pilot group is now in third grade.

“They come along in English a little faster, a little sooner. Theoretically, by the time these guys are in fifth grade, we’ll see a real difference in their performance,” Disney said, adding, “Culturally, it’s a validation. You’re celebrating that you’re bilingual and biliterate. It’s not a problem to overcome but a skill to celebrate and hone.”

Cardinal Valley actively affirms the diversity of its population, for instance, hanging flags in the library to represent the home countries of students and staff, and hosting a Hispanic Heritage Month event with community guests and children’s performances.

“They come with their parents and listen to the music, and they feel really good and welcomed,” said Carmen Cotto, the school’s Family Resource Center coordinator.

September’s Title I Family Night featured youngsters sharing music they’d also offered up at the downtown Festival Latino de Lexington. Kindergarteners sang “Hola, Amigo” / “Hello, Friend” in both languages, while first- and second-graders presented “Pinocchio” and third-graders sang “Celebra al Vida” (“Celebrate Life”) in Spanish.

“The idea is we’re all different but all come together,” Disney said. “We can celebrate our cultural heritage, wherever we’re from. It’s nice for the kids to be able to keep that connection.”

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools

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