Hispanic heritage: OKC launches the city’s first bilingual school
OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City’s very first bilingual immersion school opened this semester.
Language is the foundation of learning at Western Gateway Elementary.
âWhen we chose to live in this area, we were hopeful this school would open,â said Kristen Adams, mother of a Western Gateway freshman.
Students who have chosen the bilingual stream spend 50 percent of the day learning in English and 50 percent of the day learning in Spanish.
âThis is the best time to give them all we can give them,â said Vicky Montes, whose daughter Valeria is in first grade. âChildren are taught in English and taught in Spanish, so they don’t lose what the majority of us do every day, which is speaking English. They get that added benefit of having the other language and having knowledge about other cultures that also speak Spanish. It integrates everything completely. It’s a good start !
There are 180 students at Western Gateway, enrolled in Pre-K, Kindergarten and Grade 1.
The plan is for the school to complete an additional year each year; possibly Pre-k to 4th.
In the fourth grade, many students will be fluent in English and Spanish.
âA second language will take you a long time in life,â said Valeria’s father, Sam Montes.
Adams hopes his son, Theo, will graduate from Western Gateway speaking fluent, or almost fluent, in both.
Spanish and English.
She wants her children to be ready to engage with people from a different culture.
While the program is taught in Spanish and English, there are also students who speak other languages, including Cantonese and Malay.
These students are on the way to becoming trilingual learners.
In Oklahoma City, the language barrier is relatively intact.
As the Spanish speaking south bank grew and prospered, the river remained a geographic divide.
Western Gateway is poised to bridge the gap, creating common ground south of downtown for English and Spanish speaking families to receive a great education.
âWe had the southern community doing their thing and the northern community doing theirs. Western Gateway is a great example of how we can bring these communities together, âsaid teacher educator Brittney Santos.
The student body is made up of 55 percent native English speakers and 45 percent native Spanish speakers.
Staff are bilingual.
There is an option for teaching in English only, but the majority of the school is immersion learning: math is taught in English; science and social sciences are taught in Spanish.
âWe are working to build these classrooms as evenly as possible with native Spanish speakers and non-native Spanish speakers. So these peers can work together and learn from each other when they speak these two languages, âsaid Heather Zacarias, Superintendent of Western Gateway.
Immersion education is decades old. The benefits are well documented across the country.
There are established immersion schools in Tulsa, but in Oklahoma City the idea has struggled to gain traction.
New residential construction in the Wheeler neighborhood has ushered in a new wave of optimism for bilingual education.
âIt opens a lot of doors, internally, when you learn another language, you learn a different way of seeing things; a different point of view, âSantos said.
The goal of Western Gateway is to empower students to communicate, connect and value differences.
Administrators hope the concept will catch on.
âWe want to be a school that can be replicated, and you cannot replicate something that seems difficult,â Supt. Zacarias said.
Learning to speak, read and write in two languages ââis a difficult task. It’s a skill that Spanish-speaking Americans have mastered for generations.
Today, in this space, young students from multiple cultures are valued for who they are, the language they speak and the language they learn.
If you want to enroll in Western Gateway Elementary, there are a few places available for Kindergarten and Grade 1.
The school prioritizes students who live within the boundaries of Oklahoma City public schools.
However, there are students enrolled from as far away as Blanchard, Oklahoma.
Apply online or call the registration desk at 405.276.9170.
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