Volusia’s Spanish-English dual language program prepares pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students to become biliterate, bilingual and bicultural by the end of elementary school.
Elementary students perform a skit at VCS ribbon-cutting celebration
Discovery Elementary School students perform a skit at Volusia County Schools’ Spanish-English dual language program expansion ribbon cutting event
Ada Rios Torres grew up speaking Spanish in Puerto Rico. When she was 25, she taught herself English by watching and listening to videos. It took her five years to master the language.
She moved to the United States in 2014 and began teaching at Discovery Elementary School three years ago.
When Superintendent Carmen Balgobin suggested expanding Volusia County Schools’ Dual Spanish-English Language Program to more elementary schools, Rios Torres immediately knew she wanted to be part of the project.
“To be honest, I love the program. I believe in the program. … I’m so proud to be part of the program, and it’s amazing. It’s amazing. I feel (an) amazing feeling when I hear my kids speak in Spanish or my Spanish-speakers speak in English,” she said. “Also my parents (are) learning. I have parents saying, ‘I can say this, and I can say that, and I’m learning, too.'”
Rios Torres said that when her students go home, it’s common for them to speak in both Spanish and English because that’s what they do at school. Amanda York — mom to Elizabeth (“Betty”), one of Rios Torres’ students — confirmed that fact.
“Betty comes home sometimes and will tell me things about her day in Spanish, and I’m like, ‘That sounds wonderful, can you tell me (in English, too) so I know what you’re saying?'” York said, impressed by her 4-year-old’s abilities.
York appreciates how interactive and immersive the program is. Participating children learn standard curriculum — science, math and language arts — daily as teachers alternate between speaking in English and Spanish.
“Miss Rios has a hairband on her wrist, and it’s either blue or red, and that’s how we know what language that is today, and so when we’re dropping them off, I either say, ‘Goodbye, I’ll see you later,’ or I’ll say, ‘Adios,'” she said. “There’s students in her class that she is friends with that only speak Spanish and are learning English, and she is English-speaking learning Spanish, so they learn off of each other as much as the teacher.”
And as a parent, York feels this program is especially beneficial because the kids can start participating as pre-kindergartners and kindergartners.
“When you introduce it at such a young age, it becomes as implemented as their, you know, homebase language,” she said. “And opening the doors for the future, especially in an evolving society, everybody speaks differently and there’s such diversity that being able to integrate into those different avenues is super beneficial for now and the future.”
About the expansion
Volusia County Schools launched its Dual Spanish-English Language Program at Holly Hill and Spirit Elementary last school year and expanded the program to Discovery Elementary School in Deltona and Freedom Elementary School in DeLand for the 2023-24 school year.
Dual language students and teachers, district leadership, local officials and participating families celebrated the expansion with ribbon-cutting ceremonies at both schools Friday.
“Our job as parents and the school system is to come together … and make sure that we have opportunities for our kids so that they can learn those 21st century skills and achieve success,” Balgobin said. “This is the best time (to learn a second language) because our students’ brains at this age, it’s like a formative stage. It’s like sponges. So it’s the same process as when you’re learning your first language and you’re totally immersed.”
The dual language program teaches students to become biliterate, bilingual and bicultural by the time they complete elementary school, according to a district press release, and research shows it will also help them perform better on tests and increase their employability.
“We are so appreciative that this group is getting the opportunity to learn a second language because that second language is going to open up doors for them that would have never been opened,” said school board Chair Jamie Haynes.