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Campbell County Plans On Expanding Dual-Language Program

Catherine Wheeler
Kindergarten dual-language immersion students practice their shapes and animals with their teacher, Javier Berbel at Stocktrail Elementary School in Gillette. Campbell County School District wants to expand the program after an explosion in interest.

The kindergarten classrooms at Stocktrail Elementary in Gillette are just like any others. But in one, it sounds a little different than what you might expect.

That's because at Stocktrail two sections are part of a dual-language immersion program (DLI). That means students spend half of their day speaking only Spanish and another half speaking English.

The students are taught Spanish in context, meaning they don't speak any English while they are in the Spanish classroom, Javier Berbel, the Spanish kindergarten DLI teacher at Stocktrail said. Berbel has been with the Stocktrail DLI program since it started in 2016.

Berbel said he uses songs, movement and hands-on learning to teach his students Spanish. As for material, they are learning the concepts in the English section as well.

"When I do something that is math-minded, they'll be counting in Spanish in my classroom. Or when they're reading, they'll pull the language knowledge they have learned in his [Berbel] classroom and sometimes they'll apply it to mine," said Jill Phillips, the English section teacher.

The program has come a long way since its first year. At first, it took a lot of education and informational sessions to get parents to sign up for the program's lottery, Keri Shannon, the principal of Stocktrail said.

Shannon said things changed after the community saw what the students were accomplishing in the DLI classes.

"Then all of sudden it was no longer let me educate the community and say this is a program we will be offering. Then people started coming to us," Shannon said.

Shannon said dual-language programs have many benefits.

"When kids learn second languages, it really creates critical thinking and creativity, and problem-solving because their brains are constantly functioning in the two languages," she said.

Parents are also seeing benefits.

Jordan and Lexi Ostlund were considering the dual-language program when their child was entering school. Lexi was immediately interested, but Jordan said he was a little more skeptical.

"We had some friends who had some kids in the program, and I thought, 'That's weird.' I'm fairly narrowed minded I guess. I thought, 'Why would we do that? That's kind of strange,'" Jordan said.

After the informational sessions and doing some of his own research, he said he couldn't see a downside. Now, he's learning Spanish to be able to practice with his son.

"The really fun part is is when he corrects me, and it's not necessarily on words or phrases or anything. He corrects me on pronunciation and context," Jordan said. "So he has that ingrained in him already at such a young age."

The Ostlunds said they also see benefits in exposing their child to different cultures.

"Culturally what it's going to do for is huge. We're not exactly a cultural melting pot here in northeast Wyoming," Jordan said. "So it's nice to know they'll be exposed to different cultures."

At Stocktrail, there are DLI in kindergarten and first through third grades. That will grow every year as the students do. Shannon said there is potential for students to get college credit through Gillette College as well as potentially the University of Wyoming, as they move into junior high and high school.

The DLI program has been in Campbell County since the 2016-17 school year when it started at Stocktrail. Since then, it has expanded to Rawhide Elementary. Now, the district is planning on adding another section at Rawhide.

Kirby Eisenhauer, deputy superintendent for the Campbell County School District, said the waitlist numbers would already support another section. He said they have sent out letters to families to confirm their interest in the program.

If all goes to plan, there will be around 340 students in the DLI program in the upcoming school year.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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