HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – For Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re featuring Holyoke, the school district with the most amount of dual-language programs in western Massachusetts. In Holyoke, there are schools where they teach in both English and Spanish.
“Parents need to realize that having another language in our background is a very important tool,” said Yaurelí Colón, a dual-language Kindergarten teacher at Kelly School.
At the Kelly School, students are taught all grade level subjects in both languages every day. The program started in the city just last year. The goal is to reach high levels of academic achievement, bilingualism, and biliteracy in an environment that values multiculturalism.
“We really felt that the community around here and the community that comes to school is multilingual already so we really felt it would be a great opportunity for them to engage in this learning,” said Kelly School Principal Aaron Morris.
As of the 2010 census, Holyoke had the largest Puerto Rican population, per capita, in the U.S. outside of Puerto Rico itself. Colón herself moved from Puerto Rico two and a half years ago.
“When you teach, I think the biggest thing is when you realize that a child has learned there’s like this… in the blink of an eye, you see it,” said Colón. She says many of the students can understand Spanish from hearing it at home but can’t speak it themselves. “When they learn Spanish it helps to tie into their community, to bring a sense of self worth of pride.”
The dual language learning doesn’t just stay in the classroom. All throughout the school signs are in both English and Spanish.
“It’s proven to really be able to ensure their success in the future,” said Morris.
The program starts in preschool and kindergarten and children don’t need to be Spanish speakers when they enter.
“Regardless that we have more English speaking students, it’s working out well. The few that we have that speak more Spanish help the other ones, which is what the program intends,” said Morris.
The Kelly and EN White schools offer dual-language as programs within the school, where as The Metcalf School is a fully dual-language school. An additional grade is added every year so that the students can continue to grow and learn in both languages and eventually develop a middle school.
Morris told 22News, “By the time the first class is done, we will have dual language at all grade levels here at Kelly.”
The goal is that the students are bilingual by the time they leave.