OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City’s first-ever bilingual immersion school opened this semester.
Language is the foundation of learning at Western Gateway Elementary.
“When we chose to live in this area, we hoped this school would open,” said Kristen Adams, mother of a Western Gateway freshman.
Students who have chosen the bilingual stream spend 50% of the day learning in English and 50% of the day learning in Spanish.
“Now is the best time to give them everything we can give them,” said Vicky Montes, whose daughter Valeria is in first grade. “The children are taught in English and taught in Spanish, so they don’t lose what the majority of us do every day, which is speaking English. They get that added benefit of having the other language and knowing about other cultures that also speak Spanish. It integrates everything completely. It’s a good start !
There are 180 students at Western Gateway, enrolled in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade classes.
The plan is for the school to fill an additional class each year; possibly pre-k through 4th.
By the fourth year, many students will be fluent in both English and Spanish.
“A second language will take you far in life,” said Valeria’s father, Sam Montes.
Adams hopes his son, Theo, will graduate from Western Gateway fluently, or nearly fluently, in both
Spanish and English.
She wants her children to be ready to interact with people from a different culture.
While the program is taught in Spanish and English, there are also students who speak other languages, including Cantonese and Malay.
These students are on their way to becoming trilingual learners.
In Oklahoma City, the language barrier is relatively intact.
As the Spanish-speaking south grew and prospered, the river remained a geographic divide.
Western Gateway is poised to bridge the gap, forging a middle ground south of downtown for English- and Spanish-speaking families to get a great education.
“We had the south side community doing their thing and the north side community doing their thing. Western Gateway is a great example of how we can bring these communities together,” said teacher trainer Brittney Santos.
The student body is 55% native English speakers and 45% native Spanish speakers.
The staff is bilingual.
There is an option for English-only instruction, but the majority of the school is immersion learning: math is taught in English; science and social studies are taught in Spanish.
“We’re working to build these classrooms as evenly as possible with native Spanish speakers and non-native Spanish speakers. So these peers can collaborate together and learn from each other as they practice these two languages,” said Heather Zacarias, Superintendent of Western Gateway.
Immersion education is decades old. The benefits are well documented across the country.
There are established immersion schools in Tulsa, but in Oklahoma City the idea has struggled to catch on.
New residential construction in the Wheeler District ushered in a new wave of optimism for bilingual education.
“It opens a lot of doors, internally, because you learn another language, you learn a different way of seeing things; a different point of view,” Santos said.
Western Gateway’s goal is to empower students to communicate, connect, and value differences.
The administrators hope that the concept will catch on.
“We want to be a school that can be replicated, and you can’t replicate something that seems difficult,” Supt. said Zacarias.
Learning to speak, read and write in two languages is a difficult exercise. It’s a skill that Spanish-speaking Americans have mastered for generations.
Today, in this space, young students from multiple cultures are valued for who they are, the language they speak, and the language they learn.
If you want to enroll in Western Gateway Elementary, a few spots are available for kindergarten and first grade.
The school gives priority to students who live within the Oklahoma City public school boundaries.
However, there are students enrolled from as far away as Blanchard, Oklahoma.
Apply online or call the registration desk at 405.276.9170.
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