Arizona school districts continue to offer dual language courses despite legality

Sep 6, 2023, 4:25 AM | Updated: 11:39 am

(KTAR News Photo)...

(KTAR News Photo)

(KTAR News Photo)

PHOENIX — As top state officials go back and forth on the legality of dual language courses in Arizona, many districts continue to offer the classes to their students.

The question of dual language courses’ legality was brought up by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who cited a 2002 law passed by voters that said all English-learning students are to be taught in English only, unless they attain a special waiver stating otherwise.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Kris Mayes released an opinion that said the question of the courses’ legality was out of Horne’s hands and could only be enforced by the Arizona State Board of Education, which currently allows for dual language courses.

Students still have access to dual language courses

While Horne has promised legal action, the fact remains that dual language courses are available for many Arizona students.

Kyrene School District in Tempe offers several dual language courses, namely at the Kyrene del Norte Dual Language Academy. Jaime Soto is the principal of the academy, and he said a bilingual education can be a big benefit for young learners.

He said their program begins at preschool, where young children are immersed in a bilingual, though straightforward, learning environment.

“Once they come into the elementary level, our fifty-fifty program is where students go to the English teacher for half the day, and the Spanish-speaking teacher the other half,” Soto said.

The benefits of learning a second language

Soto used to teach Spanish as a foreign language in high school, and he describes the learning for that style of teaching as “survival,” meaning students might pass a Spanish class, but they’ll struggle to be able to utilize the language they’ve learned.

But that’s not the case when it comes to young learners.

“This is what impresses me the most: When I get to see a fifth grader that when they started here, they didn’t speak any Spanish. Their parents don’t speak Spanish,” Soto said.

“And then they’re reading a chapter book in Spanish when they’re in fifth grade. So that to me is just, you know, eye-opening and jaw-dropping…As opposed to when I taught Spanish as a foreign language.”

Soto explains that’s one benefit: young kids are good language learners, and starting young makes the learning process easier for them rather than starting later in life.

But he added there are more upsides, too.

“So the benefit of being in a dual language school…I see this on a daily basis, a very positive effect on their intellectual growth,” he said.

Soto said it helps with social skills, self-confidence and gives students an idea of their own place in the world. It also makes children more knowledgeable of other cultures and traditions.

“It definitely provides a lot of flexibility on their thinking. Obviously, they have a greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening,” he said.

“Which is something that, nowadays, we need our children to know part of being part of a community is listening to others and understanding that we have differences.”

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Arizona school districts continue to offer dual language courses despite legality