Woodbury Elementary dual-language program offers unique learning opportunity

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS Woodbury students work on English language skills, the group in front focusing on phonetics and their classmates in the background on literacy.

Having more than one language is a coveted skill in today’s world and there are local efforts underway to increase bilingualism.

Woodbury Elementary School’s dual-language program makes it unique among the six Marshalltown Schools elementary buildings.

“We are not tied to our neighborhood boundaries like the other five elementary schools, so anyone from anywhere in the district can apply to enroll into our dual-language program,” said Woodbury Principal Anel Garza.

All students at the school spend part of their day learning in each of English and Spanish. For kindergartners, the split is 70 percent of class time in Spanish and 30 percent in English.

In grades first through fourth, students’ days are split in half, with either English or Spanish instruction before lunch and the opposite language after lunch.

“We teach our math and literacy in Spanish,” Garza said. “On the English side, we teach our English literacy, science, social studies and health.”

She said the dual-language program serves a wide variety of students.

“Dual-language is a program specifically designed to service English learners (EL) and it’s an enrichment program for our non-EL students,” Garza said.

Students classified as English learners account for 80 percent of the building’s 367 students. This year, all of the EL students are of Hispanic-Latino backgrounds, but Garza said that’s not always the case, as English learners can come from a wide range of backgrounds.

The rest of the students are classified as non-English learners. That group includes all of the school’s white, black, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students, as well as about 10 percent of the building’s Hispanic-Latino students.

Garza said there is an effort under way to bridge the two languages together. One example is in math classes, which are taught in Spanish.

“Our teachers are going through professional development around a concept called ‘The Bridge,'” she said.

Once a teacher finds that all of the students have mastered the math concepts in a given chapter or unit, the students learn the equivalent vocabulary and numbers in English.

“They’ll start their lesson in Spanish, just like it was any other day, and then they bring in the vocabulary for the concepts they have taught in that chapter and they bridge them together side-by-side, simultaneously,” Garza said. “From there, they have an application peace where the students are asked to apply the concepts they’ve learned in that chapter in the English language.”

That transfer of the knowledge from one language to the other helps build bilingual skills, she said.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, young children who are bilingual may enjoy many benefits. Those include ease of learning new words and readings skills, putting words into categories, problem-solving and listening and connecting to others.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com

By the numbers – Woodbury Elementary

There are 367 students at Woodbury Elementary School this year. Here’s a breakdown of the student population for 2018-19:

• 90.2 percent of students, about 331, are Hispanic-Latino

• 8.2 percent of students are white

• 1.6 percent are black, Southeast Asian or Pacific Islander

• 80 percent of all students are classified as “English learners,” and this year all of those students are of Hispanic-Latino backgrounds

• 20 percent are non-English learners. This group is made up of 10 percent of the school’s total Hispanic-Latino population and all of the white, black, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students.