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					                                                                                                            families were Latino, with 40 per-
                                                                                                            cent speaking Spanish as their home
                                                                                                            language. We knew that our Latino
                                                                                                            children’s learning success was at
                                                                                                            risk because statistics from our local
                                                                                                            high school showed that 50 percent
                                                                                                            of Latino boys dropped out of school.
                                                                                                            We also knew that the stage for school
                                                                                                            failure is set early.
                                                                                                               What surprised us was seeing an
                                                                                                            early discrepancy in our own program!
                                                                                                            Our staff recognized the value of a
                                                                                                            child’s primary language and regularly
                                                                                                            translated information for families into

                                                                                            © Bob Ebbesen
                                                                                                            Spanish. In addition, whenever pos-
                                                                                                            sible, we hired classroom staff who
                                                                                                            spoke at least some Spanish. However,
                                                                                                            upon close inspection, we discovered
                                                                                                            that our classrooms were inconsistent

Learning in English,
                                                                                                            and inadequate in supporting chil-
                                                                                                            dren’s primary language. While our
                                                                                                            local program guidance emphasized
                                                                                                            English immersion, staff differed in

Learning in Spanish
                                                                                                            their beliefs and approaches. Some
                                                                                                            held to the English immersion model;
                                                                                                            others tried their best to teach in two
                                                                                                            languages. Many non-English-speaking
                                                                                                            families wanted their children to learn
                                       Skagit/iSlandS Head Start (SIHS) in                                  English quickly, and some stopped
      A Head Start                     Washington State has always taken pride                              speaking Spanish at home and tried
                                       in its high-quality learning program. But in                         speaking what English they could to
           Program                     spring 2002, we discovered a problem: the                            their children. This created a situa-
                                       child assessments from 13 centers serv-                              tion in which children failed to receive
           Changes                     ing children from birth to age 5 indicated                           a solid foundation in any language
                                       that although Spanish-speaking 3-year-olds                           during a crucial time in their language
      Its Approach                     entered with language and literacy skills at a                       development.
                                       level similar to their English-speaking peers,                          Aware of all these factors, we knew
                                       a year later they were lagging behind.                               it was time to reevaluate our local
        Joan Youngquist and               This finding concerned us greatly, as                             program guidance, which was based
     Bárbara Martínez-Griego           approximately 60 percent of enrolled                                 on two assumptions: all children need
                                                                                                            to be fluent in English by kindergarten
                                                                                                            and the best way to accomplish this
Joan Youngquist, PhD, is interim academic dean and executive director of Skagit/                            is through a total English immersion
Islands Head Start at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, Washington. She has more                       approach in the classroom. These
than 15 years of experience as a teacher and an administrator in multicultural early                        assumptions were due to common
learning programs.
                                                                                                            practice, limited knowledge, and a
Bárbara Martínez-Griego, MA, is chair of the Early Childhood Education Department                           lack of expertise available in the com-
and lead instructor at Skagit Valley College. She teaches child development courses in
Spanish and English, infusing them with strategies for working effectively with bilingual                   munity. To change would be difficult,
children and families. Bárbara is a co-researcher in the Teaching Umoja Participatory                       we knew. And to be successful, change
Action Research project in Kingston, Jamaica. She has worked as an elementary school                        must be thoughtful, intentional, and
teacher, preschool teacher, Head Start program administrator, and child care licensor.                      take place over time. To begin, we
                                                                                                            initiated an intentional multistep,
  This article is available online at                                                     multiyear process to transform the
             ®                                                                                              approach to language and learning in
                 2, 3, 10                                                                                   our classrooms.

92                                                                                                             Reprinted from Young Children • July 2009
                                                                  tendency resolves itself as language       including the academic, cognitive,
                                                                  proficiencies increase (Quiñones-          emotional, social, and physical.
  When young children
                                                                  Eatman 2001).                              Schools should create a learning envi-
  are learning more than                                            Research consistently points to          ronment with lots of natural and rich
                                                                  significant social, emotional, cultural,   oral and written experiences in each
  one language, both
                                                                  economic, and linguistic gains when        language instead of providing transla-
  languages follow the                                            children become bilingual early in life:   tions (Thomas & Collier 2002).
  typical development                                             • Non-English-speaking children with a        With this knowledge to guide our
                                                                  strong foundation in their home lan-       planning, we began a very intentional
  process, and this does                                          guage learn to read, write, and speak in   process of changing the program para-
  not cause language dis-                                         English faster than children who do not    digm from “English immersion is the
                                                                  have that foundation (Cummins 1993).       road to success” to “A strong founda-
  orders or substantive                                                                                      tion in a primary language is essential
                                                                  • Preventing children from develop-
  language delays.                                                ing their primary language can have a      for success.”
                                                                  negative impact on academic achieve-
                                                                  ment (Sanchez & Thorp 1998).
                                                                                                                         Step 2.
                                                                  • Young children can become increas-
                                                                                                                 Raising staff awareness
            Step 1.                                               ingly fluent in a second language if
                                                                  they have opportunities to speak it
    Refining the vision and                                       with a variety of individuals, on a
                                                                                                                To describe a paradigm shift is
   defining a paradigm shift                                                                                 one thing, but it is quite another for
                                                                  variety of topics, and for a variety of    management to make it happen in a
   The SIHS vision was and is that                                reasons (Quiñones-Eatman 2001).            large, geographically and culturally
all children succeed in learning now                              • Failure to learn the primary home        diverse organization. SIHS enrolls 83
and when they continue on to kin-                                 language well can be a source of           children in Early Head Start and 348
dergarten and the higher grades. Our                              identity confusion for children and        preschoolers in 13 centers in Skagit
non-English-speaking children were                                be harmful to family function (Makin,      Island and San Juan counties of west-
not achieving this goal. Thus, the first                          Jones Díaz, & McLachlan 2007).             ern Washington. Demanding that staff
step in changing our language-learning                            • Children in bilingual school pro-        change their practices would obvi-
approach was for both staff and fami-                             grams outperform comparable mono-          ously only create resentment, so we
lies to understand the important role                             lingual students in academic subjects      began by talking a lot. Management
language plays in achieving this vision.                          after four to six years of dual language   staff shared questions with each other
Support of program directors and                                  education. A bilingual program must        during weekly staff meetings, with
management staff was essential, and                               meet a child’s developmental needs,        classroom staff, and with coauthor
one of us (coauthor Bárbara Martínez-
Griego) took the lead in researching
language learning and presenting our
findings to the management staff.
   Research supports the need for chil-
dren to develop a strong foundation
and learn concepts in their primary
language, and it identifies the cogni-
tive benefit in learning two languages
as long as children have a strong
foundation in their primary language
(Bialystok 2001; Cronin & Sosa Massó
2004.) We learned that when young
children are learning more than one
language, both languages follow the
typical development process, and this
does not cause language disorders
                                            © Elisabeth Nichols

or substantive language delays (Lee
1996). Children may sometimes mix
both languages within sentences (for
example, “vamos outside”), but this

Reprinted from Young Children • July 2009                                                                                                        93
Bárbara, who offered her knowledge
and research findings indicating what           Real Stories about Dual Language Curriculum
was best for children.
   Questions and doubts raised by               Our intention each year is to design a program uniquely responsive to
teachers caused us to look even              each particular group of children. Decisions about language usage and cur-
deeper and to develop more knowl-            riculum choices are always based on data gathered from families and obser-
edge on the topic. Bárbara wrote             vations of the children during the crucial first few weeks of the year.
articles in the staff newsletter based          This year we had a large group of monolingual Spanish speakers. The
on her experience, the research, and         teaching staff decided to have two teachers speak Spanish and our third
her observations of children in our
                                             teacher speak English throughout the entire day. We recently reassessed the
program. The management team estab-
                                             children’s needs and will incorporate more English in our day. We are seeing
lished a new program committee—the
                                             children gain skills in their primary language and develop skills in a second
Multicultural Committee—to explore
                                             language. They can then practice new terms and phrases in English.
the question of primary language learn-
                                                The children attain goals more rapidly than they did when we spoke to
ing and the broader issue of cultural
                                             them only in English, which allows us to develop new goals with parents. This
awareness in which the issue rested.
This talk continued for about a year,        is in contrast to the slower progress observed in past years. Another ben-
and some frustration set in. Bárbara         efit we’ve noticed is an increased sense of community within the classroom
felt that her knowledge and expertise        environment.
were not convincing enough for staff                                                          — Cynthia Fuentes, Teacher,
and that, as is often true for an orga-                                       Burlington-Edison Child Development Center
nization, an outside expert could be
more effective in demonstrating that
change was necessary and possible.
                                             Literacy is more than reading books     or longer for a person to learn the
                                           and counting and reciting the alpha-      new academic language. In contrast,
            Step 3.                        bet, staff learned as they began to see   when a program supports children
Solidifying staff by bringing in           the importance of communicating           in learning concepts in their primary
                                           with children in a variety of ways—       language, they can more readily
       outside expertise
                                           through oral stories and folklore         transfer these concepts to the second
   Our location near Seattle, a large      and through art, drama, and music.        language and actually become fluent
metropolitan center, had advantages,       Children enter preschool rich in their    in English faster.
such as access to Pacific Oaks College.    own language, Cronin emphasized,             The workshop was a success.
Faculty member Sharon Cronin was           and the important teaching builds on      Teachers spoke with excitement about
well known for her work and exper-         that strength rather than immersing       supporting every child’s primary lan-
tise in the area of supporting primary     children in a new language and ignor-     guage in the classroom. Now, we had
language and culture. Bárbara invited      ing the language and literacy develop-    staff “buy-in,” but was this enough to
her to present a one-day training for      ment they have experienced so far.        bring about the needed change?
all SIHS staff in spring 2004. Through       In an English immersion program,           We recognized the importance of
lecture, group activities, music, and      Cronin explained to staff, children       involving families and the commu-
games, Cronin effectively communi-         struggle with learning both basic con-    nity. Family services specialists and 
cated the importance of supporting         cepts and language at the same time.      teachers at each of our centers talked
learning in a child’s primary language.    She noted that it takes seven years       with parents individually and during
                                                                                     family-night activities both to educate
                                                                                     parents and to invite their feedback.
                                                                                     Although initially some parents
                                                                                     were hesitant about a dual language
     Children enter preschool rich in their own language,                            approach, as they learned more about
     and the important teaching builds on that strength                              language and learning and the benefit
                                                                                     to all children, most became strong
     rather than immersing children in a new language                                advocates for dual language and bilin-
     and ignoring the language and literacy development                              gual learning. Coauthor Bárbara held
                                                                                     forums at local schools and commu-
     they have experienced so far.                                                   nity centers to present information to
                                                                                     the community at large.

94                                                                                       Reprinted from Young Children • July 2009
             Step 4.                        Children took part in the Spanish           our teaching staff in 2002 were mono-
                                            circle one day and the English circle       lingual English. Many teacher aides
       Turning knowledge
                                            the next day, so that both the English      or teaching assistants were Spanish
         into practice—                     and Spanish speakers would experi-          speaking, but many had limited
     Experimentation starts                 ence the same content and activities        English skills. We knew that if children
  After the staff training, we noticed      in each language. Staff requested           were to hear and converse in their pri-
that the inconsistencies in classroom       books in Spanish, and we allocated          mary language, we would need at least
support of children’s primary lan-          funds to increase our bilingual library.    one teacher in each classroom who
guage that had existed in 2002 began        But with all their valiant efforts, staff   spoke the child’s language. In addition
to disappear. By this time, September       still expressed frustration and doubt       to staff training, we changed the ways
2004, staff knew that the expectations      about how to implement a dual lan-          we support and use language in our
of program leadership had changed.          guage curriculum. Knowledge based           classrooms. Our four primary strate-
They understood better the impor-           primarily on one workshop was not           gies included the following:
tance of supporting children’s primary      enough to bring about change.
                                                                                          Hire bilingual staff whenever
language at school and in the home.
                                                                                        possible. This was relatively easy
  In classrooms with bilingual teach-
                                                       Step 5.                          for positions that did not require a
ers, we observed changes in teach-
                                                                                        degree or experience, but we found a
ing strategies. Teachers were more             Committing organizational                very limited, often nonexistent, pool
intentional in their use of Spanish                    support                          of bilingual applicants for teaching or
when conversing with children who
                                                                                        home-visiting positions that required
were Spanish speakers. At one center,         Supporting children’s primary
                                                                                        associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.
teachers held two circle time groups,       language is difficult when staff speak
one in Spanish and one in English.          only English. The vast majority of
                                                                                           Support monolingual staff in
                                                                                        improving their language skills. Our
                                                                                        program paid the tuition for several
     Real Stories about Dual Language Curriculum                                        staff members to attend intensive
                                                                                        Spanish language classes both during
     We divide children into three groups: Spanish, bilingual, and English.             the summer and the school year. This
  We meet with each family and assess the child’s needs to determine the                allowed several teaching and home
  primary language. We consider the child’s age. If the child will be going to kin-     visiting staff, previously uncomfort-
  dergarten next and their English skills are good, we place them in the English        able conversing in Spanish, to become
  group, since kindergarten instruction is in English in our community.                 familiar with the language and able to
     The children learn in their language group during small group and individual       have meaningful conversations with
  activities during free choice. Large group activities are inclusive. The English      children and families. Several improved
  speakers also learn Spanish. We use props and gestures that help English              their fluency to the point that they no
  speakers understand what is happening. Throughout the school year we                  longer needed the support of transla-
  reassess the children, and we may reassign a child to a different group as            tors even during parent conferences.
  needs and skills develop. Teachers also work on their language skills to build
                                                                                           Support bilingual staff in work-
  their vocabulary in Spanish.
                                                                                        ing toward a credential or degree.
      Each year brings something new, so we adjust as needed. Sometimes we
                                                                                        Our program historically supported
  have lots of Spanish speakers. Sometimes we have many bilingual Spanish/
                                                                                        center teachers in working toward an
  English. This year one child is becoming trilingual English/Spanish/Punjabi.          AA (associate’s) degree in response to
  The mom gave us the Punjabi alphabet and has made labels for the class-               national Head Start expectations. We
  room. She also wrote out her child’s name in Punjabi so the child could prac-         extended that support to aides, many
  tice writing it each day during sign in.                                              of whom were bilingual. After bilingual
     Dual language curriculum is a lot of work, but I know that the children and        aides had achieved the CDA (Child
  parents are benefiting. Everything we do supports the acquisition of a second         Development Associate) credential
  language and retention of the primary language. Parents can communicate               and/or received AA degrees, they were
  with the teachers in their language so they can ask questions and participate         effective in supporting dual language
  without any hesitation.                                                               classroom activities. We created a
                                                      — Barbara Guillen, Manager,       pool of bilingual candidates ready to
                                                      LaPaloma Head Start Center        apply for teaching positions as these
                                                                                        opened up.

Reprinted from Young Children • July 2009                                                                                    95
  Engage language aides. When
other strategies were unsuccessful,
we found volunteers or hired part-
time language aides who worked with
children in their primary language in
the classroom. Teachers reported that
having an aide who speaks a child’s
primary language in the classroom
even just one hour per day made a dif-
ference in a child’s ability to integrate
into the classroom and maintain his
or her primary language skills while
learning English.
                                            © Bob Ebbesen

             Step 6.
     Testing new models in
          pilot centers
   With administrative support, staff
buy-in, and a growing knowledge and                         language approach, we supported             children would suffer. Because this
skill base, we readied ourselves to                         the plan since all the children came        concern might hold people back, we
increase the intentional support of pri-                    from monolingual, Spanish-speaking          encouraged staff to develop their own
mary language in the classroom. Four                        families. Centers gradually introduced      ideas and strategies. It was important
centers expressed a strong interest in                      English during the year through small       to try and OK to fail and try again.
piloting an intentional dual language                       group activities that focused on con-       The mentoring and coaching Bárbara
curriculum in September 2004. Each                          cepts already learned in Spanish.           provided to center staff was extremely
center’s community was completely                              Other centers enrolling both             valuable at this stage. She observed in
different, and centers employed staff                       English- and Spanish-speaking chil-         classrooms, scheduled meetings and
with skills in different languages. The                     dren assigned part of the day to            reflection time with each center team,
same approach might not be appro-                           teaching in Spanish and the balance to      and arranged for Sharon Cronin to
priate for each center, and we knew                         teaching in English. Two circle times—      visit each center to observe and offer
different models could be effective                         one in Spanish and one in English, at       ideas to staff.
in supporting bilingual classrooms                          different times of the day or on dif-         Monthly meetings of the multicul-
(Cronin & Sosa Massó 2004).                                 ferent days and with all children or        tural committee became a venue for
   The models ranged from valuing the                       in small groups—covered the same            group sharing and reflection. The
home language by learning a few key                         concepts. Staff who were not fluent in      mutual support that staff provided
words and encouraging parents’ use of                       Spanish were encouraged to learn four       to each other was key in encouraging
the primary language at home to imple-                      key words each week to use in con-          teachers to implement a new and unfa-
menting true dual language programs                         versation with children. One center         miliar approach. The support from
providing meaningful learning experi-                       employed a model that had four days         Bárbara and from one another helped
ences and language development in                           of instruction per week. This included      to ensure that strategies met program
two languages. When determining the                         two days teaching in Spanish and two        expectations.
best model for a given program, it was                      days teaching in English, with the
important for staff to consider both                        same concepts and activities empha-
the language and cultural experiences                       sized in both languages. An Early Head
of enrolled children as well as bilin-                      Start class for 2- and 3-year-olds used
                                                                                                          The mutual support
gual language skills of staff.                              English one day, Spanish the next day,        that staff provided to
   Bárbara met with each center team                        and sign language on alternate days as
to discuss its plans for implement-                         a bridge between days.
                                                                                                          each other was key in
ing dual language curriculum. One                              While many staff understood what           encouraging teachers to
center, located in a predominantly                          they thought a dual language curricu-
Latino neighborhood, wanted to                              lum should look like, a few struggled
                                                                                                          implement a new and
teach primarily in Spanish. Even                            with program implementation and a             unfamiliar approach.
though this was not a true dual                             concern that if they didn’t get it right,

96                                                                                                         Reprinted from Young Children • July 2009
             Step 7.                        dual language learning and to faster      communities and questions yet to be
                                            adoption of classroom strategies, and     answered. How do we effectively sup-
      Providing more staff
                                            it validated the importance of our        port five or more primary languages
    development and expe-                   approach.                                 in the same classroom? With staff
  riencing a little serendipity                                                       turnover, how do we maintain and
                                                                                      continue to develop staff knowledge
   Looking for and taking advan-
tage of opportunities that support                       Step 8.                      and skills? Without the continued staff
                                                                                      development assistance of Bárbara,
change is essential. In January 2005,           Reflecting and planning               how do we continue to mentor staff?
our local community college, Skagit
                                               Thinking about where you have          How do we keep our momentum with
Valley College, received a Head Start/
                                            been and where you are going is           increasing demands on our time and
Higher Education Latino Partnership 
                                            crucial to maintaining a paradigm shift   attention?
Grant. The grant funds let us hire
                                            and program change. We spent four            Skagit/Islands Head Start is commit-
faculty with a strong knowledge of
                                            years developing an understanding of      ted to continuing its efforts to ensure
dual language and bilingual curricu-
                                            and changing our approach to primary      that every child has a strong founda-
lum approaches. The award paid the
                                            language development. We increased        tion in his or her primary language.
tuition for some staff members to
                                            the number of bilingual staff in class-   Staff from our pilot centers will share
work toward the CDA credential and/
                                            rooms and furthered staff knowledge       what they have learned with other
or an AA degree. The Early Childhood
                                            and skills about the importance of        center staff and early childhood
Education Department of the college
                                            children learning in their primary lan-   professionals in our community. We
arranged a summer, weeklong inten-
                                            guage. We successfully established an     will collaborate with school district
sive course in dual language curricu-
                                            intentional dual language curriculum      partners who are implementing dual
lum, led by Sharon Cronin, who had
                                            in several preschool centers, an early    language and bilingual classrooms. We
joined the Praxis Institute for Early 
                                            Head Start classroom, and a home-         will continue to seek opportunities to
Childhood Education in Seattle. Many
                                            visiting program.                         increase staff knowledge and skills.
of our teaching staff participated and
returned to their centers with stron-          Our new approach is working. Child
ger skills, a fuller understanding of       assessments indicate that children
dual language/bilingual curriculum          from Spanish-speaking families now        Conclusion
approaches, and a new, positive atti-       demonstrate progress in early lit-
                                                                                        After discovering that Spanish-
tude toward and in support of the           eracy skills equal to or better than
                                                                                      speaking children in English-immersion
program priority for hiring Spanish-        their English-speaking peers. Families 
                                                                                      preschool classrooms demonstrated
speaking staff.                             understand the importance of their
                                                                                      lower literacy and language skills, we
  By February we had experienced            own language and value the dual lan-
                                                                                      transformed the approach to language
another unexpected opportunity              guage approach. English- and Spanish-
                                                                                      and learning in our Head Start program
that contributed to the success of          speaking families alike are excited
                                                                                      through an intentional process to
Skagit/Islands Head Start’s changing        about their children becoming fluent
approach. Six staff members attended        in two languages.                         • increase staff knowledge of language 
the first Head Start Latino Institute          The journey is not over. There are     learning and dual language/bilingual
in Albuquerque. The sessions helped         challenges associated with changing       curriculum approaches;
them further build their knowledge                                                    • provide support through bilingual 
and skills, and they met professionals                                                and multicultural materials for chil-
from across the country who were                                                      dren, teachers, and parents, and addi-
                                             Child assessments indi-                  tional staff when needed; and
interested in dual language and bilin-
gual curriculum approaches.                  cate that children from                  • enlarge the number of staff with 
   Without the grant or the institutes,                                               bilingual skills—through hiring and
                                             Spanish-speaking fami-
we are confident that we would still                                                  educating bilingual staff and sup-
have been successful in implementing         lies now demonstrate                     porting monolingual staff in pursuing
the change to a dual language curricu-                                                language classes.
                                             progress in early literacy
lum. By now we had the commitment
                                                                                      With encouragement, staff developed
of administration, management, and           skills equal to or bet-                  and tried new strategies, and the sup-
key staff and had accessed resources
                                             ter than their English-                  port they received ensured that the
for building staff knowledge. But this
                                                                                      strategies met program expectations.
support from outside our program             speaking peers.                            Our efforts were successful.
contributed to the effectiveness of
                                                                                      Children from both Spanish- and

Reprinted from Young Children • July 2009                                                                                 97
                                           approach with Spanish, English, and                Makin, L., C. Jones Díaz, & C. McLachlan, eds.
                                                                                                2007. Literacies in early childhood: Changing
                                           American Sign Language.
   With encouragement,                                                                          views, challenging practice. 2nd ed. Marrick-
                                              The future includes maintaining                   ville, NSW: Elsevier Australia.
   staff developed and                     a language-appropriate curriculum                  Quiñones-Eatman, J. 2001. Preschool second 
                                                                                                language acquisition: What we know and
                                           approach—dual language or other-
   tried new strategies,                                                                         how we can effectively communicate with
                                           wise—in the face of new challenges,                  young second language learners. ED 478930.
   and the support they                    including classrooms with multiple                   Technical report #5. Urbana-Champaign,
                                                                                                IL: University of Illinois, Early Childhood
                                           languages, and continuing the educa-
   received ensured that                                                                        Research Institute on Culturally and Linguis-
                                           tion of all staff, even in the face of               tically Appropriate Services (CLAS). http://
   the strategies met pro-                 limited funding.                           
                                                                                              Sanchez, S., & E. Thorp. 1998. Policies on 
   gram expectations.                                                                           linguistic continuity: A family’s right, a
                                                                                                practitioner’s choice, or an opportunity to
                                           References                                           create shared meaning and a more equitable
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                                             Seattle, WA: Center for Linguistic and Cul-        Berkeley Graduate School of Education,
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dual language and bilingual learning         gual children: A base for bilingual instruc-     Copyright © 2009 by the National Association for the Educa-
to Early Head Start. Our Early Head          tion in early childhood education. The           tion of Young Children. See Permissions and Reprints online
Start teachers implement a trilingual        Bilingual Research Journal 20 (3/4): 499–522.    at

98                                                                                                 Reprinted from Young Children • July 2009

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