BUFORD — No matter the language, kindergarten students at Ivy Creek Elementary School are digesting a dose of new procedures and routines this week as they begin the 2016-17 school year.
In one classroom, they might hear, “Everybody listen, right now.”
In another, it might sound like this: “Todo el mundo escucha, en este momento.”
“We’re just practicing, each time we’re repeating it 10 times,” said teacher Emily Marabotto, who teaches the students in fluent Spanish. “Once they get into the flow of things, it just moves so nicely.”
Building those routines helps students understand the language through modeling, she said.
“That will build their confidence to feel good in their classroom with their fellow peers,” Marabotto said.
Now in her third year, Marabotto is a veteran of the dual language immersion program in Gwinnett County Public Schools, which is also in its third year. The previous two school years she taught at Bethesda Elementary, but moved to Ivy Creek to be closer to home. She makes up one half of a team teacher tandem along with Angela Williams, who focuses on language arts and social studies.
They combine to teach 54 students — 27 in each classroom — in a dual language English-Spanish model where the students learn their academics 50 percent of the day in one language and 50 percent in the other.
Principal Laura Callahan was offered the program in the spring and jumped at the chance even though Ivy Creek doesn’t have a large Hispanic population. Ivy Creek is one of six schools to have DLI in Gwinnett, including three that were added this school year.
“I couldn’t let this opportunity go somewhere else and our kids not have to have this chance to do this,” Callhan said. “Because I just think it’s going to be great. … When (parents) understand what the purpose is, I think they’re really intrigued by it, see it as a great opportunity.”
News of the program at Ivy Creek has proven to be popular, Callahan said.
She received one phone call from a man in another state who was relocating his business to the area, and asked about the school’s attendance zone. Another man, a Grayson High School teacher, also inquired, but received the unfortunate news that his first-grade daughter missed the program by a year. It was also popular enough that the school instituted a lottery system to fill the final spots.
As the students progress with each grade, Marabotto said the teachers would add foundational elements such as phonics that they would in an English-only class to build social language development, math, science and Spanish literacy.
“Not only are we looking for language proficiency, but we’re looking for proficiency in the academics,” Callahan said.
Program research and information the school district has collected suggests students perform on tests at or above levels in this program as other students do in traditional settings, Callahan said.
Williams and Marabotto met in the spring to begin planning, and have since taken to texting in the evenings to be on the same page with curriculum schedules.
“That partnership is critical,” Callahan said.
Williams is a charter member of the Ivy Creek staff, and outside of three years in pre-kindergarten, she’s taught the balance of her 21-career in kindergarten. Williams admitted she catches herself in normal planning preparations because she realizes that Marabotto is already scheduled to cover a particular area.
“It’s actually been a little easier for me,” Williams said.
Added Marabotto, “It’s nice, you can focus and zone in and get really good at what you’re doing.”