In a unique state like New Mexico, with the nation’s highest percentage of Hispanic residents at almost 50% and a majority-minority student population of 71%, the sudden and widespread loss of Spanish and indigenous languages might seem surprising.
“Sadly, many of our languages skipped an entire generation,” says Edward Tabet-Cubero. “It’s a story you’ll hear all over New Mexico. Our grandparents grew up speaking the language, but in school they were forced to speak only English and punished when using their native tongue. Because of that experience, many in that generation refused to teach the language to their children – our parents.”
Tabet-Cubero is deputy director of Dual Language Education of New Mexico (DLENM), a nonprofit organization working to reverse that trend by advancing the practice and quality of dual language education across the state of New Mexico.
“My mother couldn’t speak any Spanish at all, and so I didn’t use it growing up. But when I got to junior high, I realized how important it was for me to learn it and continued my studies through college,” said Tabet-Cubero. “Now through dual language my own children have recovered the language that is rightfully ours. We’re hoping to share this incredible asset with all children, and ensure that this kind of loss doesn’t happen again.”
“Now through dual language my own children have recovered the language that is rightfully ours. We’re hoping to share this incredible asset with all children, and ensure that this kind of loss doesn’t happen again.”
“As we move toward a more global society, we’re seeing the need for our children to speak at least two languages, if not more, to be able to compete on that global level,” says Suzanne Jácquez Gorman, principal of El Camino Real Academy, an elementary school in the Agua Fria neighborhood of Santa Fe. The school has been working with DLENM on their dual-language program for eight years.
“It’s important to validate the culture of so many of the students in our community, to help them find success in their native language. But we’re not trying to cater to a specific population. Linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms benefit all of our students, with a significant impact on their long-term success.”
Linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms benefit all of our students, with a significant impact on their long-term success.Recognizing the power of these programs, DLENM was created to provide expertise to tap the full potential of schools with dual language education programs. In 2013, with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Dual Language Bright Spots Initiative was created to provide intensive support to high-potential schools.
At Reginald Chavez Elementary in Albuquerque, one of the three 2014 Bright Spots schools, Evelyn Chavez works side by side with more than 20 teachers to create comprehensive improvement plans. She is one of DLENM’s five full-time professional development coordinators (PDC).
Beyond jointly setting goals for the year and developing curriculum, Chavez also gives her teachers hands-on experiential learning, including direct coaching, in-class observation and co-teaching.
“Based on our own experience as teachers and principals, and based on what we heard from schools across the state, the traditional one-off professional development was not working” Chavez says. “We follow them into the classroom, because that’s when the learning will really go straight to the students. And then we check back to see their progress and keep improving.”
Unlike professional development programs that often provide one-size-fits-all instruction and training, DLENM customizes its approach for each school, teacher and even each classroom. Rather than a top-down approach, school leaders and teachers are involved in the process from the beginning.
We follow them into the classroom, because that’s when the learning will really go straight to the students.”
Together, they engage in “VISITAS©” where they visit each others’ classrooms, identifying good practices and noting areas for growth. Teachers also observe the same subject in different grade levels, so that, for example, the second and third grade teachers get a real look at what reading instruction looks like in the fourth grade and can better complement each other.
“We don’t have a formulaic approach to program improvement,” Tabet-Cubero explains. “Instead we really engage the leadership and the teachers to identify areas for improvement and use their strengths.”
Terese Bridges, instructional coach at Coronado Elementary school in Albuquerque, a 2014 Bright Spots school, and Maria Elena Orozco, a 5th grade teacher, agree that the hands-on approach has been critical.
“It’s very powerful, we have a real sense of back-up from them,” says Bridges. “Dual language instruction requires us to think through so many additional layers of teaching, so it’s critical to have their knowledge.”
“They really want teachers to be successful,” agrees Orozco. “It’s important for us to have an organization that focuses on cutting-edge research and strategies to share with us. That way we can concentrate on providing the high-quality instruction our students deserve.”
Though the Bright Spots initiative is only in its second year, the demand for dual language programs is only growing, as more parents sign up on waiting lists at these schools. New Mexico also is reclaiming this vital part of its history: it is the only state with bilingualism built into its state constitution of 1912, which explicitly calling for the preservation of the Spanish language. The state is now supporting initiatives like DLENM and recently passed the New Mexico Seal of Bilingualism/Biliteracy.
Tabet-Cubero and his team at DLENM are excited about the future. This school year, they will begin expanding their work to Native American communities, which make up over 10% of New Mexico’s population. They’ll begin with the 2014 Bright Spots school, Dream Diné, which provides instruction in English and the Diné language.
“We’re building upon the existing strengths within the state,” Tabet-Cubero says. “We’re reclaiming our languages as a precious resource that will help New Mexico lead the future.”