Preschoolers learn Spanish and English in Muscatine bilingual classroom

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 10:00 PM CST
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MUSCATINE, Iowa (KWQC) - A Muscatine classroom created a first-of-its-kind bilingual learning experience within their district. Preschoolers at Muscatine’s Early Learning Center start their day learning the basics in Spanish, switching to English halfway through the day.

Of the 19 students, nine of them are native Spanish speakers and 10 are native English speakers. This program allows the students to focus on biliteracy at a young age instead of waiting until High School.

Being able to work in both languages is crucial at this point in their life, says the class’ early childhood special education teacher, Noelia Espinal. “Brain plasticity forms from birth until age 8. The more we give them now, the better they’ll continue on. It’s important for people to be bilingual, billiterate, bicultural. The more you can do, the more you can help.”

At 8:30 a.m., the day started with the message of the day, going over their task: ‘vamos a escribir lineas’ (we’re going to write lines) then detailing the day, month, and topic of the day; all in Spanish.

Espinal says “I hear buenos días, hola! You saw the instruction, they know the words. Even when they’re learning new words they’re trying to say it. I always preface it with ‘it’s tricky, that’s ok- we can try!”

This program is especially important since about 20% of Muscatine residents are Hispanic. Principal Jessi Freers notes “the most important part of our English speaking students is to open up those lines of communication, to appreciate another culture, and understand some of the challenges that people in our community have when they’re not able to communicate with others.”

Not only does the program help students learn more about others, but about themselves too. “The difference is I’ve noticed is I have leaders. Spanish speakers might be hearing English and be reserved. This year, they’re a lot more comfortable. They’re leaders and not afraid to share what they want to say,” says Espinal. Freers echoes this saying this year is the first time in her two decades of education that a Native Spanish speaker has come up to her and confidently started speaking in Spanish.

The District says they plan on adding one additional class each year. Next fall, a bilingual Kindergarten class will be open to 25 students.

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