Madison’s Dual Language Immersion Program Deemed A Success

As the Hispanic population grows, a Madison school?s approach to teaching the language is garnering support and interest.

Two worlds come together inside Christina Amberson?s kindergarten class at Nuestro Mundo.

By the time Nuestro Mundo?s kindergartners are in their 40s, the Latino population in the United States will have tripled, expanding to 132 million in 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As this minority becomes a majority, the school district is taking note and expanding the school?s program.

In its eighth year, Madison?s free public charter school continues its mission to be both diverse and inclusive.

“The idea was to be able to offer bilingual education but in an environment where Spanish-speaking kids didn’t have to be alone or separate from the rest of the school,” said principal Silvia Romero-Johnson.

Almost 300 students attend the Dual Language Immersion or DLI elementary school on Madison?s East Side.

The DLI program follows the 90/10 model: Kindergartners receive 90 percent instruction in Spanish, 10 percent in English. The percentage of English increases every year.

And by the time students get to Rigoberto Gallego?s fifth-grade English class, they are learning both languages equally.

School officials said that demand to attend Nuestro Mundo is there.

“There has been a waiting list for years,” said Romero-Johnson.

Because of this, Romero-Johnson said the district has expanded the DLI formula, offering it at non-charter elementary schools across Madison?s four attendance areas: Sandburg, Glendale, Chavez, Midvale and Leopold.

“Yes, I would say it’s a success story,” said Susan Abplanalp, the district’s deputy superintendent.

Abplanalp said data shows improvement especially for Spanish-speaking students in subjects like math, reading and science using DLI over more traditional programs like English as a Second Language, ESL.

But what hasn?t been decided is whether the district will expand the program even more.

Nuestro Mundo?s first batch of students are now seventh graders at Sennett Middle School.

So far, Sennett is the only middle school offering DLI. In 2013, those students will go to La Follette High School, which doesn?t offer DLI.

To that, Abplanalp said, ?What we want do is make sure students are able to continue to learn and continue to sustain what they’ve learned in a K-8 program. So we want to offer something we just don’t know what it is.”

As the district considers future expansion of this program, Nuestro Mundo officials said they will continue to offer a unique opportunity to educate and unite.

“The students as you’ve seen can speak in both languages and can communicate with friends across languages so it’s been very much a success,” said Romero-Johnson.

The district has some concerns about DLI including whether the district has the ability to recruit teachers who are certified and bilingual. The district also admits some schools simply don?t have enough Spanish-speaking students to pair with non-Spanish speaking students.

The school district says it is bringing together all Madison high schools to talk about DLI and what it might look like if it is expanded to high schools.

The district is also considering DLI for Mandarin Chinese, but says there are no immediate plans to act on that.