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Delhi students benefit from bilingual education
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Fifth grade Delhi Unified School District Dual Language Academy teacher Karina Guzman gives Harmony students a lesson during a Spanish portion of daily instruction. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

At just 10 years old Valerie Mercado can see the writing on the wall for the future employment marketplace: “If I am bilingual and biliterate I have a better chance at a good job than someone who isn’t. If you look at the job ads in the newspaper a lot of them say bilingual needed,” she said.

Mercado is one of nearly 250 students learning English and Spanish in the Delhi Unified School District’s Dual Language Immersion Academy — housed at Harmony School.

The DLA was created in 2004 at the urging for Delhi parents. That cohort of students is largely intact and currently in seventh grade. Since that first year the DLA program has remained an “80/20” model. Basically students begin the DLA in kindergarten and teachers speak 80 percent Spanish and 20 percent English. By the time DLA students reach the 8th grade the percent is flipped and they are taught in 20 percent Spanish and 80 percent English.

 “In an ideal situation we would want to start at 50/50 but with our high percentage of Latino students who come from Spanish-only speaking homes we decided to start with the 80/20. We are looking at the language. A child’s brain is able absorb and learn two languages in those early years of education,” said Harmony Principal Richard Perez.

Perez is referring to bilingual cognitive advantage in which the brain is able to learn languages easier in childhood than in adulthood. It is also believed that once a person learns two languages other languages are easily acquired.

DUSD Director of Curriculum and Instruction Sue Gomes said her own son benefitted from exposure to a second language.

“My son went to a daycare provider who spoke nothing but Assyrian and he would come home and speak Assyrian. As he got older he just picked up Spanish and now he is fluent in it. I think learning a second language at a young age opens the door,” said Gomes.

While the effects of bilingual learning can be debated, one aspect of the DLA cannot — it is preparing students for the future (and current) workplace and it is teaching an appreciation of different cultures.

“We have white, Latino, Hmong and Sikh children in our program. Some of our second or third generation Latino parents who never learned their native language from their parents now see the value in bilingual education — not just for employment but for the appreciation of culture,” explained Perez.

Next year when the first cohort of bilingual education students graduate from 8th grade Perez plans to present them with a bilingual certificate of recognition — something that says the students have obtained a certain level of mastery in two languages.

“It will be something to encourage them to continue their bilingual education and work to earn their bilingual seal of proficiency on their high school diploma,” said Perez.

Harmony school and the DLA are part of the Central Valley Dual Language Consortium, made up of about 10 schools that teach bilingual education, including Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy and Dutcher Middle School in Turlock, as well as Elim Elementary in Hilmar.