The new program was spurred by consistent growth in the district’s bilingual population as well as the desire to better equip students for their future, said Valerie Petrzelka, TISD assistant superintendent of elementary schools.
The number of bilingual or ESL students in TISD has hovered around 10-11 percent of the total student population, growing from about 1,254 students in 2012-13 to about 1,562 students in 2016-17, Texas Education Agency data shows.
“Looking at the future of our students across the board, we feel like we are enriching the environment for learning, both for our English and Spanish students,” Petrzelka said.
Accepted students will receive instruction for math, language arts, science and social studies in both English and Spanish, according to the release, as the program integrates native English and native Spanish speakers.
The program is available to incoming kindergarten students in TISD as well as students outside of district boundaries who are admitted to TISD via the limited open enrollment process, according to the release. Limited open enrollment offers students outside of TISD boundaries the opportunity to enroll in the district at select schools.
As Rosehill Elementary is a limited open enrollment campus, students from outside districts are eligible to apply for the dual language academy, Petrzelka said. However, students must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 to apply for the 2019-20 program, according to the release.
“I think what makes [this program] important is the increasing number of bilingual students we have coming into our district,” Petrzelka said.
She said she anticipates program capacity to be about 80-100 students, comprised of both native English and native Spanish speakers. Students may be selected using a lottery system, should interest levels exceed that cap, Petrzelka said.
“We feel this is a wonderful opportunity for any family,” she said. “It builds our community when we have families learning from each other.”
District officials said the goal of the dual language program is to help students become bilingual, bi-literate and bi-cultural while promoting high academic achievement, according to the release. Petrzelka said the district’s existing bilingual program is a one-way dual language model, meaning all students are of the same native language.
Bringing native English and native Spanish speakers together in a classroom is expected to improve language acquisition skills for students as well as provide a foreign language option for students at the elementary level, said Jessica Perez, coordinator of bilingual education for the district.
Currently, students receive foreign language instruction only at the intermediate or high school level, she said.
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Perez said. “We know that we’re serving the students in that foreign language tract.”
The dual language academy will also allow students to earn high school credit in their early years, as students can earn high school credit after five years in the dual-language program, Petrzelka said. One grade level will be added to the program each year through fourth grade, growing with the inaugural class of students, Petrzelka said. The board of trustees must approve more years to offer the program beyond fourth grade.
“[We’re] enriching their lives for not only the present but also the future,” she said.