Kindergartners and first grade students will not be allowed to speak English in half of their classes at a Wyoming elementary school this year. The reason, said officials at Park Elementary School in Casper, Wyoming, is the school is now offering dual-language education.
The 5- and 6-year-old students will speak Spanish for half the school day, and English for the other half. It is all part of a new program in the state designed to help students learn a second language more quickly.
“They don't do this at every school, so I am lucky to be doing this,” said Saul Rodriguez, a bilingual teacher and native Spanish speaker.
The program was developed based on research that indicates children can learn to speak a second language more easily at a young age.
“The kids learn so easy and so fast, that it is just amazing,” Rodriguez told WFSB. “They can learn whatever, so that is not an exception with languages.”
Another elementary school in the county started offering dual-language education in Chinese last year. Park Elementary Principal Dawn DeWald applied to the state for permission to offer a Spanish program at her school that same year but didn’t get the approval necessary.
She vowed in December to try again.
“We are pretty excited and hopeful here,” DeWald told the Casper Star-Tribune. “Dual-language, to me, has always been an exciting opportunity that I think is out there for our children.”
Parents in the district supported the push for dual-language education and celebrated in February when Park Elementary got state approval and the local school board green-lighted the program.
“I strongly believe that knowing Spanish will give my children an opportunity and open doors for them that wouldn't be open otherwise,” parent Cassidy Lach told the Star-Tribune earlier this year. "And that's our job as parents."
The response from students has been mostly positive, but teacher Nicole Dundas said she does occasionally need to give the children some encouragement.
“I just keep encouraging on my side of it as, you might not know it now, but in a few months you are going to know everything that he is saying, and how cool is that?” Dundas said. “You get to have a second language.”