Recently, I had someone ask me if it was necessary that their child attend a Spanish immersion program in order for them to be bilingual. Houston just had it's magnet notification day, which a friend recently compared to medical school match day for kindergarten. Her daughter had the opportunity to hold one of the very coveted spots in a dual language school. My answer to her was that although it is not necessary, it is very helpful. This exchange brought to the surface something that I have a little bit of regret about.
We live in Houston, and the opportunities for my family to speak and interact in Spanish are bountiful. As a family who began our language journey from birth with a one parent one language model, our young daughter expressed herself first in Spanish. She spent the better part of her days in the loving care of her Oma, my mom, who spoke to her, played with her, and read to her in Spanish. I spoke to her exclusively in Spanish as did all of my extended family. Regardless, our family language was English, and by the time we were making kindergarten decisions, she preferred English, our community language. We jumped at the chance for her to attend a local dual language immersion program. We needed help, because by now, her two younger siblings, especially my reluctant Spanish speaking son, were also more comfortable in English. She had a wonderful teacher, and by the end of kindergarten was reading in both English and Spanish. Now, surrounded by our new tribe of Spanish speaking families, our world was Spanish speaking until my husband came home. This was the pattern of our lives for the next two years. A year later, our son, began in the same dual language immersion program, and I assumed we would continue three years later with our youngest daughter. We loved our school, our teachers, and our community, but we were magnet students , and I began to hear talk of the magnet program being discontinued before all three kids were enrolled.
In an effort to be prepared, I began to explore other options for schools around Houston, mostly private faith based schools. During this exploration, we happened upon a university model classic Christian school, where parents partnered with classroom teachers. The model seemed ideal for us. It allowed me to home school with an academically rigorous curriculum two days out of the week, and still give the kids a school setting for another two days a week. Having been trained as an educator, I longed to take a more active role in their education, and the slower pace of part time home school really appealed to us. We applied, and I reluctantly informed the dual language school we loved so much. It was a difficult decision for our family, our children had received a wonderful bilingual education to this point, but we knew state tests were around the corner, and were unsure of the chances all three children could attend the same school.
This is where a bit of regret comes in....not because we changed schools. Our new school filled many of the needs for our kids that we felt were missing . It was a nurturing faith based environment that really challenged them academically. I got to spend much more time with them since we home schooled for 3 days of the week. It slowed the hectic pace of our lives tremendously, but.....they lost their Spanish instruction, we lost the ability to interact with our Spanish speaking tribe on a daily basis, and for the first time I had to speak to the kids in English. As the co-teacher in an English curriculum, I had to read and help them write in English. I'm proud to be a very balanced bilingual, but it threw a wrench in our one parent one language model, and arrogantly, I didn't think it would interrupt their Spanish language development. Well, I was so wrong. I found myself clamoring to regain some of the Spanish they were losing.
I own and run a business where students are enriched in Spanish classes from book clubs, writing clubs and Spanish theater. I made sure they each attended a weekly session, but soon, their schedules were full, and I thought, I can just implement it at home. Even with all my training and expertise, I failed to realize how intentional I was going to have to be to not lose the bilingual children I had worked so hard to raise. Take note, although it is not necessary to have your children enrolled in a dual language immersion program if you are lucky enough to be admitted, it is very, very helpful. In my next post, I will explore other ways that you can be intentional about finding Spanish speaking opportunities. I will also go into more detail about how I help my soon to be 5th, 4th and 1st grade children continue their growth in Spanish now that we are no longer in a dual language program. It is possible to raise bilingual children if your are consistent, persistent, and creative, even if you don't live in a city as bilingual as Houston.