On Oct. 5 as part of the Magnet Schools of America 2017 Technical Assistance and Training Conference, school administrative representatives from across America toured Richfield Dual Language School and observed student learning in dual-language classrooms.
About 15 participants attended the tour and visited different classrooms for 10 -15 minutes from 8 - 9:30 a.m. RDLS reached its 11th year of operation in 2017 and serves more than 460 students.
“We are in a learning process always,” said principal of RDLS Marta Shahsavand. “One thing we’ve found as a challenge since I’ve joined this school is finding authentic Spanish literacy. Most of our books came from translations and we do not like that. Another challenge we’ve had is assessments. Standard tests are in English. We feel that our children were instructed in Spanish so they should be assessed in Spanish.”
Shahsavand said the school also struggles to find bilingual special education teachers.
“We want to find bilingual special education teachers so that we can serve students in Spanish,” Shahsavand said.
The dual-immersion program goes all the way through high school and is in its second year of being offered at high school levels.
Richfield Public Schools superintendent Steven Unowsky said dual immersion means both native English and Spanish students learn together, not just native English speakers.
“We have about 50-55 percent Latino students and 30 percent Caucasian students this year with about 60 percent of the students on free to reduced lunch,” Unowsky said. “We do a lot of things as a district to meet the needs of our community. We were able to launch a free-health center to meet the needs of our students from birth to 21 in the city of Richfield.”
Unowsky said as RDLS administrators have gained more experience, the school’s success has accelerated more rapidly.
“We live in a multi-lingual world,” Unowsky said. “The ability to connect with those of different cultures and ethnicities is a tool the kids can carry with them for life. The conference choosing RDLS is recognition of the work we’ve been doing at our magnet schools.”
Karen Pattillo Bailey, a school administrator from Norfolk, Virginia said RDLS provides an excellent opportunity for students to be educated in Spanish and English.
“I think this will give kids an incredible opportunity as well as for predominantly English-speaking parents,” Bailey said. “I think its a win-win situation for students, parents and the community.”
Executive Director of Magnet Schools of America Todd Mann said the school provides a successful program for students to become bilingual.
“I think this is a remarkable school,” Mann said. “They’ve done a terrific job of figuring out how do you provide blended education with both languages. How do you define success? The kids are fluent in both languages by the time they graduate fifth grade.”
Mann said it is critical in Richfield’s community and nationally to be bilingual.
“We are a much more diverse and global country,” Mann said. “The more fluent we are in different languages, the more acceptant and tolerant we will be of different cultures. Being bilingual will open more doors for people because we are in a global economy now.”
Follow Cam Bonelli Twitter @RISunCurrent.