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HAMMOND — At Irving Elementary School, students learn how to read and do math, along with principles of science and social studies, but unlike at most schools, they do it almost entirely in Spanish.
Elementary students in kindergarten through third grade are able to enroll in the school’s dual language immersion program, where they will learn the fundamentals of education in another language.
For kindergarten students, the curriculum is 90% Spanish and 10% English. As students get older, teachers begin using more English, with third grade students learning 60% in Spanish and 40% in English.
During the school day, students not only learn in Spanish, but they engage with other cultures. For example, second grade students learned about holiday traditions across the world during December. Students may also learn about different foods and dialects.
Principal Sarah Kilander said teachers represent art in the classroom and try to integrate Spanish into every part of life.
People are also reading…
“The culture in the building is evident when you walk in the front door,” Kilander said. She said both languages are used in the hallways and in announcements.
Books in the classroom are also multicultural and offered in both Spanish and English.
Another component is bridging English and Spanish languages. Students will transfer their knowledge from Spanish to English by noticing familiar words or similar sounds.
Several of the teachers are even from Spanish-speaking countries themselves, including Mexico, Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador. Cristina Sanchez, dual language immersion coordinator, said it is important to have a diverse faculty because there are several different dialects in every Spanish country.
Recently, the program has even invited Angela Cervantez, writer of Encanto and Coco books, to come speak to students. The school also held a Latino Resource Fair. In the future, Sanchez hopes they can have a mariachi choir and Spanish club.
The program began in 2019, and Superintendent Scott Miller hopes to eventually expand it to another elementary school. In addition, the district is looking at how they could build this program into the secondary schools.
Another goal is to eventually build a pathway to where high school graduates can earn a seal of biliteracy.
Fifty percent of the students in the program are native English speakers, while the other half are native Spanish speakers. Parents in the program do not have to speak Spanish, but the school does ask them to commit to the program and encourage their children to practice their Spanish at home.
“You would be hard-pressed to find someone that says ‘it’s not good for kids to learn two languages,’” Miller said.
In addition, Irving has done parent workshops and is very communicative with them in order to help them best support their students. Ana Verduzco, director of language development for Hammond schools, also said they offer adult English classes twice a week for parents. During the summer, it will increase to three times per week.
Kilander said a major goal of the program was to help support the community, which is significantly Hispanic. According to Miller, School City of Hammond demographics indicate 48% of students are Hispanic.
“This is us being intentional about recognizing our student demographics. We are not still doing things the way we did 30 years ago when demographics looked a lot different,” Miller said.
There are also 1,500 English language learners across the district.
Irving Elementary is the only school in Lake County to offer a dual language immersion program.
The program is open to the entire School City of Hammond and even has open enrollment to other districts. Enrollment for next year has already begun, and those interested in more information can call Irving Elementary.
Interested families can enroll in the program at any level offered, but it is recommended to begin as early as possible. Transitioning later may make it more difficult, but it is still welcome.
The program receives a lot of interest; there are already waiting lists for kindergarten and third grade.
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