Glenwood Springs’ Riverview School dual-language students show early growth | PostIndependent.com

Glenwood Springs’ Riverview School dual-language students show early growth

Staff Report

Students in one of Riverview School's dual-language classes.

Glenwood Springs' new Riverview School opened at the start of this school year as a preK-8 dual language, project-based learning school with 376 students.

As the district's first dual-language school, Riverview provides a unique bilingual learning opportunity for students, according to Roaring Fork School District officials.

And, unlike other language programs, Riverview's program focuses on real-world learning, said Riverview Principal Adam Volek.

"We're not teaching kids rote memorization of language," he said in a news release. "We're teaching kids how to utilize language to access learning. And we're doing that through authentic learning opportunities."

The Center for Applied Linguistics defines dual language as "any program that provides literacy and content instruction to all students through two languages," That can take a lot of different forms, Volek said.

Riverview is using a 50:50 model, where all students spend half of their time receiving English instruction and the other half receiving Spanish instruction.

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"Every kid is a language expert for their native language," Volek explained, meaning native Spanish speakers are considered experts in their first language, and students from English-speaking families are experts in their first language.

"By mixing kids up, you make sure there are experts in every class who can help their peers," Volek said.

For this first year, the school implemented the dual language program only for students in the early childhood program (preschool and kindergarten) through second grade.

"All of our older students are being supported with Spanish instruction this year," Volek further explained. "We will expand into third grade next year and add a grade each year as those students transition."

Though students have only been exposed to a semester of the dual-language learning models, staff members are already seeing results.

"It has been incredible to watch the growth of both native English and Spanish speakers develop reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in both languages," added Riverview kindergarten teacher Courtney Rangel.

The growth has been especially profound because the program is new, she said, and Spanish instruction was totally new to half of the students.

"Many students were monolingual at the beginning of the year and are now progressing in two languages," Volek said.

Parents are also noticing the student growth. Alexandra Woolley, the mother of a Riverview kindergartner, said she is very pleased with the program.

"We feel lucky to give our children the opportunity to learn Spanish starting in kindergarten. Our daughter is starting to read in Spanish and even taught her 3-year-old brother to count in Spanish. It has been amazing to watch the rapid pace that she is picking up a new language," Woolley said.

The initial school design process involved a lot of parent and community input, as well as from staff, students and other community members.

"When our family learned there was a new school being built in our community, we were excited, and then even more excited to learn it was going to be a dual language program," Woolley said. "So far our hopes for the school have come true. We have been very happy with her kindergarten experience."

One other school in the district, Basalt Elementary, has had an optional dual-language track for more than 20 years. It is now exploring whether to become a full dual-language school, a process that would involve a similar level of community involvement. At this time, there is no formal proposal or timeline for that to happen, according to Kelsy Been, public information officer for the district.