District 65 is a center of learning. Students learn, teachers learn, and others visit our schools to share and discover new ideas, collaborate and learn together. On May 4th teams of teachers from different Chicago Public Schools started their day in the JEH Board room for a presentation about the District 65 bilingual education model by Sarah Mendez, the District’s Bilingual and ESL Education Coordinator.

Olivia Mulcahy, Dual Language Education Initiative Coordinator for the Chicago Public Schools, arranged for five teams of four or five teachers and administrators to visit. Each team spent the day at one of the five TWI schools in District 65. The CPS educational professionals came to learn more about District 65’s model for teaching two-way immersion for Spanish-speaking students. CPS, in the early stages of implementation, has partnered with Evanston/Skokie CC School District 65 to learn from our educational experts about how to avoid the bumps in the road with the two-way immersion (TWI) model.

Ms. Mendez explained that the program begins in kindergarten with a 90/10 model – meaning 90% of instruction is in Spanish; 10% in English. One exception is that English speakers who participate in the Guided Reading program receive their Guided Reading in their native language. This is based upon research that shows that learning best occurs in the native language and that good literacy skills are the foundation for learning. As students matriculate through the grades, the ratio of Spanish to English shifts, and by the fifth grade instruction is at about a 50/50 ratio, with the overall goal being bi-literacy and bilingualism for all students.

Questions were asked about the rate of achieving English proficiency. Teachers were particularly interested in District 65’s model for a number of reasons, including the fact that native Spanish-speaking students in District 65 are achieving English proficiency by fifth grade, and exhibit high scores on the ISAT, once proficient. It was also noted that the model relies very heavily upon ongoing assessments to monitor how the students are doing and develop the early interventions to help them succeed academically. Program supports include co-teachers, bilingual reading specialists, bilingual social work and psychology services, and the district’s Hispanic parent liaison who works to make the school to home partnerships more inviting.

CPS teachers and administrators then spent the day at their assigned school, watching the mastery and art of classroom instruction in the Two-way immersion classrooms at Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington and Willard Schools. They then debriefed with Sarah Mendez where they expressed how impressive the District 65 dual language program is and what wonderful opportunities the program provides for an at-risk student population.