February 6, 2023
Durango 9-R School District provides programming for bilingual students
KSUT | By Clark Adomaitis
More than 20 students from kindergarten through 5th grade sit in a circle in the school library at Park Elementary. After a day of school, time on the playground, and snacks, they're now learning to read in Spanish.
Gabby Rico Alvarez, Bilingual Parent Liaison for Durango 9-R, and Dr. Lorien Chambers Schuldt, Professor of Teacher Education at Fort Lewis College, are reading Mo Willems' We Are in a Book to the children. They recite each page in Spanish and English.
Michelle and Abril, both third graders, are reading Comiendo el Arcoiris/Eating the Rainbow and A que no me alcanzas!/Catch Me if You Can! They switch from English to Spanish easily and naturally, and they're excited about what they're reading.
"The book club is important for me because we get to practice with adults our reading to see how we can improve," said Abril.
"I can get better at reading longer words and at Spanish," says Michelle.
The Bilingual Book Club is one of several programs Gabby Rico Alvarez has launched for Spanish-speaking and bilingual students. In the last year, she's collected dozens of children's books for the program.
"When we are doing the read-aloud, we're trying to be super fun with expressions as well. All these books are bilingual, different authors. Some of them are from Latin America, and some are from the United States," said Alvarez.
The Hispanic population in Durango has fluctuated over the past few decades but hovers at around 1,500 people. When it comes to public education, it's a small but significant population with particular needs. Alvarez focuses on serving Spanish-speaking and bilingual families. Sonja Ortiz loves that her child has this learning opportunity.
“En una aprendizaje para nuestros hijos. Me parece algo maravilloso. Porque nuestros hijos pueden aprender muchísimas cosas mas aparte de su rutina diaria escolar.” (It’s a lesson for our children. It seems like something wonderful to me. Because our children can learn many more things apart from their daily school routine,)” said Ortiz.
Another parent, Beatriz Garcia, helps chaperone the club. She played an essential role in starting the program.
"During the pandemic, we realized that the kids that didn't have the support that they needed couldn't do their homework at home because the parents can't speak in English," Garcia said.
Garcia helped Gabby Rico Alvarez start the club less than a year ago. She reflects on the difficulties she faced learning English.
"I am originally from Mexico. And I grew up speaking Spanish. And I want to continue that with my own kids. And I wanted to support other kids in this community so that they can learn a new language. I am so impressed about how much it took me to learn English and see the kids that they can learn so much easier than us as an adult," Garcia says.
The children in this classroom are growing up between cultures. There's the language of their parents, and there's the dominant language of the community. The bilingual book club helps these kids move fluidly and fluently between both worlds.
Editor's note: All photos of children were approved by Durango 9-R and their parents. All parents sign a release at the beginning of the school year. No parent refused to have their children’s photos be used.
Voices From the Edge of the Colorado Plateau seeks to cover underrepresented communities in the Four Corners. KSUT provided editing and web production for this story.
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