School draws students from throughout the metro
Twenty-eight students in Jim Clark's 1st-grade class at Windom Spanish Dual Immersion are tightly squeezed together in a square-circle configuration around the perimeter of a gray rug in the classroom on a mid-September morning.
Clark is leading a discussion in Spanish about school activities, a guessing game about things they own and a playful song about movements sort of like the “Hokey Pokey.”
The enthusiastic 1st-graders respond and sing in Spanish as part of a bilingual curriculum that teaches Spanish and English. Just a few weeks into the school year, the children already sound fluent in Spanish, even though only eight of them are native speakers.
As a testimony to the strength of Windom's bilingual program, students are arriving at the school from across the city and even nearby suburbs, and there is a waiting list for interested students. The school's enrollment for students in grades K-2 has increased 33 percent since opening three years ago. All told, there are 316 students enrolled at the school.
Parents and educators say the bilingual program teaches children to be more culturally aware while also improving their all-around literacy. For Spanish-speaking families, there's another perk: It's an opportunity to retain their heritage and still acquire necessary English skills.
Each year, a grade level is added to the dual immersion program. Currently, children in kindergarten through 3rd-grade (in a 3rd- and 4th-grade-split classroom) receive the bilingual training. Windom also has an open curriculum that stresses academic choice in grades 4-8, but that's being slowly replaced by dual immersion.
Bilingual programs have also become popular in the suburbs and throughout the country, said Windom Principal Jean Neuman.
She attributed the success of such programs to a heightened interest in worldly affairs that benefits academic rigor. “It's a way to teach gifted students, and it makes the regular program better,” she said.
Windom's program has influenced the longstanding Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center in Loring Park, which has adopted its formula for delivering the two languages.
Students in kindergarten and 1st-grade receive instruction almost entirely in Spanish, or rather, 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English. In subsequent years, teaching in English gradually increases so that by 5th-grade, exposure to both languages is even.
Latino students' knowledge is a plus, and students benefit mutually by learning from each other. “We believe the skills transfer from one language to another,” said Clark. “Learning in two languages opens minds and ways of thinking.”
The Windom classroom appears like a typical elementary room with a colorful array of books, bins and puzzles and pint-sized tables and chairs for pint-sized students. The only difference is that all the items have Spanish labels.
For example, a permanent marker greeting written on the surface of an easel bears a Spanish message, welcoming guests into the class: “Buenos dias. Hoy es viernes. Hoy vamos a tener una visita. A segurate de saludarle. Has traida la tarea? Attentos.” This translates to “Good Day. Today is Friday. Today we're going to have a visitor. Greet our guest. Have you brought your homework? Attention.”
The clock has a sticker that reads, “el reloj.” A case containing folders states “portafolios.” Two cherry red chairs are tagged, “el lugar tranquilo” which means, “a peaceful place.” The seats are pushed against the windows as a respite for students who get too rowdy.
A bulletin board near the door is decorated with oval-shaped faces - self-portraits the children created from construction paper. Their features are rendered in crayon. Above the crowd it reads, “Nuestros suenos” or “new faces.”
A popular program
Windom is a much different school than it was when Neuman arrived at Windom five years ago. Back then, its curriculum was being re-envisioned while magnet schools across the district were being adapted and changed.
Since nearly 40 percent of Windom's student body was Latino, the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Board determined that dual immersion was a logical step. It also made sense because Emerson had a waiting list (and still does) while 13 percent of MPS students are Spanish-speaking.
Windom's popular bilingual program does have challenges to overcome. The classrooms are crowded with kindergarten and 1st-grade classes hovering around 30 students, and a 4th-grade class has 38 students.. The ideal class size for students that age is 26 (and 32 in 4th), according to district targets.
Larger class sizes means that teachers spend more time addressing behavioral problems and grading papers, which can detract from teaching time or providing individualized attention to students, Clark said.
This year, two educational assistants will be on hand to help teachers deal with larger classrooms.
Joan Wing, a parent of a student at the bilingual program, had high praise for Windom. She chose the elementary school for her son over a school where she lives in Wenonah.
“I choose to drive my child to Windom because it is a wonderful program, and being bilingual in Spanish and English will make him a better person, not just improve his employment prospects immensely,” she said.
Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].