Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) awarded Columbia Elementary School a two-year grant worth $60,000 as the school embarks on its second year of offering its Dual Language Program teaching interested Woodland Public Schools students in both English and Spanish.

Woodland Public Schools introduced the Dual Language Program during the 2018-2019 school year to help address the increasing diversity of the community’s population. “More than 25% of our entering kindergartners cannot speak English,” said Ingrid Colvard, Principal of Columbia Elementary School. “By offering a dual language program, we not only help address the needs of our native Spanish-speaking families but also the desires of our native English-speaking families who would like their children to be bilingual.”

Receiving outside funding following the first year of a dual language program is unusual, however the grant from OSPI will provide $30,000 to Woodland’s program in each its second and third years. “I’m excited to have the state see the good work we’re accomplishing and continue to support our program,” said Colvard. “The funding will help pay for curriculum materials for next year’s second grade students as well as professional development opportunities for our bilingual teaching team throughout this year.”

In order to continually assess and improve their dual language program, Principal Colvard and the Dual Language Teaching Team attend professional development opportunities throughout the year including conferences and site visits to other dual language schools. “Several school districts throughout Washington offer dual language programs so we visit them in order to research ideas and strategies to implement at our program,” said Colvard. “Working with other districts helps all the schools involved improve their immersion programs by sharing the concepts that work – it’s a true collaborative effort.”

Although the program started with just two kindergarten classes in 2018, Woodland Public Schools must prepare for each subsequent year as students progress from one grade to the next level. “We’ve been dedicated to supporting the program for the long-term from the very beginning, knowing that we would need to ensure we have the teachers and curriculum for a new grade level each year in the beginning,” explained Colvard. “When we receive grants like this one, we can supplement what we receive from our incredibly supportive community to ensure we offer the best learning experiences for our students.”

The grant will fund purchasing next year’s second grade teaching materials in advance, offering the teaching team the time to plan. “By having next year’s materials this year, we won’t have to plan on-the-fly,” explained Colvard. “Having the materials sooner is truly critical as it gives the entire team the opportunity to know what we and how we need to teach in order to prepare our students for the next year’s lessons.”

Breaking Down the Language Barrier

The Dual Language Program continues to have an impact school-wide throughout Columbia Elementary School, even with students not enrolled in the program. “It’s become cool to speak two languages now and there’s a real naturalness to how our building uses both languages,” said Colvard. “Everyone’s used to saying the Pledge of Allegiance in both languages and seeing printed materials in both English and Spanish – it’s just what we do.”

First grade students in dual language fully read and write in both English and Spanish. “When at lunch or on recess, our dual-language students help translate for our students who don’t speak both languages,” said Colvard. “The program has really changed the entire climate and culture of the building by breaking down the language barrier; we are all part of the same community regardless of the language we speak.”

Preparing for Second Grade

Columbia Elementary School’s dual language team now includes two kindergarten teachers, two first grade teachers, and a teacher new to the district this year who will teach second grade next year, Franklin Collazo.

Collazo and his wife moved to Woodland from San Jose, California after visiting Portland with his wife. “One of my sons was looking at colleges in the Portland area and we were impressed with the area, particularly north of Portland,” said Collazo. “My entire family loved the area, but when my sister-in-law bought a house during our visit, we knew it was only a matter of time before we would be making the move, too.”

Collazo is no stranger to dual language programs. He and his wife helped start a dual language program in San Jose which both their sons attended. “Being able to speak two languages is like being able to cross the bridge from Portland to Vancouver,” said Collazo. “Students learn not just the language but also the norms and culture, and when you look at it from professional development, it’s a huge opportunity for students to be able to apply for jobs where speaking two different languages is key.”

Collazo looked at bilingual education programs at schools in Southwest Washington and even took a few interviews with other districts, but when he interviewed in Woodland, he knew he found the right place. “Ingrid is smart, quick, and a true visionary with the quiet courage needed to implement a program like this,” he said. “It certainly didn’t hurt that my wife and I found the house of our dreams here; the rest is history.”

Collazo started teaching as a classroom assistant in 1987 and received his teaching credentials to teach full-time in 1993. Although he worked for many years as a school administrator, he looked forward to returning to the classroom. Being Puerto Rican, Woodland was a perfect fit for Collazo. “Puerto Ricans hold a lot of pride in our towns rather than states or counties,” he explained. “One of the reasons I love Woodland is how the community holds a great deal of pride in their town and their schools.”

More Information for Families interested in Dual Language

Families interested in enrolling their students in the Dual Language Program do not need to be bilingual themselves and students do not need to have any prior knowledge of their non-native language. Additionally, there are no screening criteria for students to enroll – all students are eligible. Applicants are accepted in the order of their application date and the district has a designated lottery-system should the number of applicants exceed the number of available classroom spots.

Although there is no additional cost to enroll, parents and guardians must remember that the true benefits from a dual language program involve a long-term commitment and should plan for their student to continue enrollment in the program for the grades following kindergarten, too.

For additional information, visit Columbia Elementary School’s Dual Language Program website.