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March 1, 2021

Students immersed in program

Starting next school year, 40 more kindergartners will be on
their way toward becoming more well rounded citizens of Gilroy.
Starting next school year, 40 more kindergartners will be on their way toward becoming more well rounded citizens of Gilroy.

Rod Kelley Elementary School plans to begin the Dual Immersion Program this fall, Gilroy’s second elementary school to do so. The school’s vision is to promote students who are fluent in English and Spanish to the sixth grade. Like the program already established at Las Animas Elementary School, Rod Kelley’s program will teach students to be biliterate and bilingual in both languages. The program not only produces students that can think in both languages, it also increases academic progress in reading, writing and math, Las Animas principal Silvia Reyes said.

Her school’s statistics are evidence, she said. A chart comparing the performance of DI students at Las Animas compared to students not enrolled in the program show nearly half of DI student performing at the proficient or advanced level on the English/Language Arts state tests in 2007. Only a quarter of non-DI students performed at a comparable level. Math scores showed similar trends. More than 80 percent of DI students were proficient or advanced on the 2007 Mathematics state test. Less than 60 percent of non-DI students performed at that level on the same test.

The students perform better in school, according to the Las Animas data, develop creative ways of thinking and become more accepting of others who are different, Reyes said.

“We are preparing them for the future,” Reyes said to a group of parents who hoped to enroll their kindergartners in the program. “Dual immersion teaches them to take risks, think outside the box. We work with the kids in terms of developing character. Not only can they read and write and do math, they can communicate with others,” – an aspect of the program that was very attractive to Jackie Drake, a mother who hopes her child will be accepted into the program next year.

“So many people in Gilroy don’t speak English,” Drake said. “You can relate to so many more people knowing a second language.”

The highly competitive program has drawn such a group of supporters that a long waiting list exists at Las Animas. Parents were pleased to learn that Rod Kelley will accept 40 kindergartners into its program next year. Principal Luis Carrillo has already received 54 applications for the 40 slots. Students receive priority if they have a sibling in the program, if they are the child of a school employee and if they are in Rod Kelley’s attendance area, in that order, Carrillo said. Students also sign a six-year contract verifying their commitment to the program.

“If families are planning to move out of the area, they should not come into the program,” Carrillo said.

Like the Las Animas model, the classes at Rod Kelley will consist of one third English only speakers, one third bilingual students and one third English learners/Spanish speakers. They will receive two days of instruction in classrooms where only English is spoken and then switch to two days in a Spanish classroom, where only Spanish is spoken and English is prohibited. This method is a vast improvement over the now defunct bilingual program model, Carrillo said.

“That model wasn’t very successful,” he said. With DI, students are completely immersed in the language of the day, with the goal of being bilingual and biliterate in both languages. The same lessons are not repeated and the children must learn their non-native language in order to achieve. With the old bilingual program, English learners were weaned from their native language with the intent of becoming fluent in English. Lessons were taught in one language and repeated in the other.

“It didn’t force them to focus,” Carrillo said of the bilingual program. Students could virtually tune out to their non-native language as the lesson would be repeated in their native tongue.

Local language expert, Gunter Barth taught at various language institutes for decades and verified the necessity of learning to communicate by total immersion. A practitioner of the direct method, Barth worked closely with his students, prohibiting them from speaking in their native language. His insistence on speaking in only the second language, like dual immersion teachers, forces students to use their existing vocabulary to communicate. They do not have their native language to fall back on.

Carrillo and staff were excited to get the program off the ground. Although finances were not preventing the school from implementing the program, Carrillo wanted to “make sure the entire staff was trained in second language acquisition methodologies,” he said, a process that takes time. “We needed to establish collaboration. Now that we have, we finally decided we’re ready.”

The program does take time to coordinate and implement, but now that three schools will be offering the program – South Valley Middle School also hosts a DI program – parents and board members are excited to see the successful program gaining greater support.

Board members approved the school’s plans to begin the program with unanimous enthusiasm.

“The criteria for success are in place,” board president Rhoda Bress said. “A very important part of being a well educated person is knowing at least one other language. It’s just critical. This is a multicultural world.”


Percent proficient or advanced on California Standards Test

English/Language Arts

Dual, 2004-2005: 33

Non-dual, 2004-2005: 19

Dual, 2005-2006: 53

Non-dual, 2005-2006: 25

Dual, 2006-2007: 50

Non-dual, 2006-2007: 25


Dual, 2004-2005: 70

Non-dual, 2004-2005: 59

Dual, 2005-2006: 70

Non-dual, 2005-2006: 59

Dual, 2006-2007: 85

Non-dual, 2006-2007: 59

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