Bilingual Education

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Forty percent of the student population in the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD), approximately 15,000 students, are emergent bilingual students. These students include recent immigrants to our country and children starting school from non-English-speaking homes. Emergent bilingual students within BISD speak 14 different languages, with the majority speaking Spanish.

“Our students are everywhere,” said Carlos Olvera, Director of Bilingual Education. “They are in athletics, UIL, Special Education, CTE, Dyslexia, GT, etc. We collaborate with many different departments within the district.”

The Bilingual Education Department’s primary purpose is to provide supplemental instructional resources to the various campuses within the district. This can be in the form of materials or strategies that the teacher can use to help emergent bilingual students in their classroom. It also includes helping teachers better utilize these strategies and understand the challenges of their students through Professional Development and Consultants.

Students entering Pre-K or elementary with little or no English participate in BISD’s Transitional Bilingual/ Early Exit Program. The teacher provides instruction in the student’s primary language, with no more than 80% of the instruction being in Spanish and the rest in English. Students transition into increased teaching in English until they meet the criteria to exit the bilingual program.

“The criteria to exit bilingual education is that they reach advanced high levels of proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing domains in TELPAS (Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment) in English and also pass the STAAR Reading test,” said Olvera. “After that, we monitor them for five years to make sure they are not falling behind.”

Emergent bilingual middle and high school students benefit from the ESL/Pull-out model. Despite the name, students are not actually pulled out of the classroom. The teacher uses a variety of Sheltered Instruction and Ellevation strategies and methods to help the student based on the individual student’s level of English. Students entering BISD in middle or high school with little or no English knowledge work with an ESL (English as a second language) teacher. The district provides dictionaries of different languages to help these students, such as Russian-English, Korean-English, Tagalog-English, and Spanish-English dictionaries. Students may also be given an iPad with Google Translate so that the student can read the teacher’s words in their primary language as they are being spoken.

Students coming into Brownsville ISD from other countries while in high school may have already completed part of their high school requirements in their native country. In this case, their credits are validated through the LUCHA Program at the University of Texas at Austin UT High School.

“This helps them to graduate on time within the four years of high school,” said Olvera. This also helps in helping them continue with a post-secondary education.

Some middle and high school emergent bilinguals will be participating in a virtual reality summer program this Summer from July 17 to July 28. The district will provide the students virtual reality goggles and software, and they will visit different places worldwide while working with the listening, speaking, reading, and writing language domains.

“These are not students who are required to do this,” said Olvera. “They are students who want this extra help to improve their English.”

Elementary students this summer will have access to books that are in both English and Spanish with questions for their parents to ask the child after the child has read the story or had the story read to them. Parent engagement is essential for emergent bilinguals, and the parent instructions, questions, and sample answers are written in Spanish to assist the parents.

“Our department’s main purpose, our main goal, is to ensure that our students are academically and linguistically prepared to meet state assessment standards and ultimately for life,” Olvera said.

“Our goal for them is to exit the bilingual program and move forward with their education and their lives without needing linguistic supports.”

Joanney Uthe