Education

Inside the classroom: What does bilingual education look like?

At Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville, one of the three kindergarten classes is bilingual. Teacher Kimberly Cook starts the year speaking mostly in Spanish and moves toward English later in the year.

English Learners Language Director Carla Cruise says the things children are learning, such as phonemic awareness of breaking words apart, are similar in either language.

“The whole goal is they’re able to learn,” Cruise said. “In the ’80s, it was sink or swim... now they have support to learn.”

Lots of teachers speak Spanish. Why is it so hard to find bilingual teachers?

The bilingual certification is not a bachelor’s level degree; it comes only with a master’s degree.

Are there other types of education for English learners?

Yes. Caseyville Elementary, also in the Collinsville School District 10, has 47 percent Hispanic students. Principal Kevin Robinson said last year a bilingual teacher would pull students out of class for about 30 to 45 minutes a day to help them; this year they are using a parallel-teaching model.

In Tess Dawson and Lea York’s third-grade classroom last week, that meant Dawson taught in English and York, a bilingual teacher, was there to translate as needed. At Caseyville Elementary, two of the three sections in each grade are parallel-taught.

“We’re looking to give them more minutes in the classroom,” Robinson said.

Are the non-English speaking students citizens?

It doesn’t matter. By state law, districts can ask families to prove residency but not citizenship. Carla Cruise, Collinsville’s English Language Learners director, said most of the Hispanic students are in the country legally.

“We do have some undocumented, but we’re here to educate,” she said.

Principal Todd Pettit, of Kreitner, said some of his students are third- or fourth-generation Kreitner students and the student mobility among the 400-some students is low.

“Mobility you wouldn’t think would be low, but ... there’s some longevity in their jobs and these are factors that help us truly be a neighborhood school.”

According to the latest data available from the Illinois State Report Card, Kreitner had an 8 percent student mobility. Similarly-sized schools in the area, including Jefferson and Union elementary schools in Belleville, Central Elementary in O’Fallon, and Wolf Branch Elementary in Swansea, all had higher mobility rates. Penniman Elementary in Cahokia, with 385 students, had 30 percent mobility.

Contact reporter Mary Cooley at mcooley@bnd.com or 618-239-2535. Follow her on Twitter: @MaryCooleyBND.

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