The collaborative projects not only serve to enhance the language skills of the students, but they also help the students understand and appreciate different cultures
Fourth-grade students enrolled in the Dual Language Program at Columbia Elementary School break down cultural barriers through language and social connection by collaborating with Spanish-speaking students in Puerto Rico using Zoom teleconferencing software.
The collaborative projects between Columbia Elementary and Puerto Rico not only serve to enhance the language skills of the students, but they also help the students understand and appreciate different cultures. “We focus on three pillars for our Dual Language Program: developing bilingual and biliteracy skills; maximizing grade level achievement; and developing sociocultural competence,” said Maria Rodriguez, a bilingual fourth grade teacher at Columbia Elementary. “By interacting with other cultures, our students grow and develop the skills to adapt and thrive in an increasingly global community.”
Rodriguez immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico 15 years ago, so when she discovered a colleague was teaching fourth grade at the school where she used to teach, Rodriguez organized an international collaboration between both classes. “By writing letters, making cards, and having discussions with their Puerto Rican counterparts, Woodland’s students are learning about the similarities and differences between their lives in the Pacific Northwest and the lives of students in Puerto Rico,” explained Rodriguez.
Evalyn Logan, a fourth grader, wrote about walking through the woods and climbing mountains in her letter to her Puerto Rican pen pal. “I also asked about family and discussed some of my favorite hobbies like singing, making crafts, and baking,” she said. Meanwhile, Alden Pulliam, a classmate, wrote about the weather, asking his Puerto Rican counterpart if there was a lot of rain. “This project helps us establish social connections and learn about different countries and cultures,” Alden explained. During the teleconferencing session, the elementary students in Puerto Rico asked questions of their American counterparts, too, allowing them to learn about life in the United States.
Woodland’s Dual Language Program has been a success, with native Spanish-speaking students from Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, and other Spanish-speaking countries learning to communicate in both English and Spanish, as well as helping teach their English counterparts how to speak Spanish. “We pair each native English speaker with a native Spanish speaker so the two students can help one another learn their native language,” said Rodriguez. “In fact, one of the class rules is if a student has a question, they start by asking their partner, then their tablemates, and, finally, the teacher.”
Woodland’s Dual Language Program starts in kindergarten, with students learning both languages by spending half of each day learning in English and the other half in Spanish. Students experience the benefits of bilingualism, which has been shown to have cognitive, academic, and social advantages for young children. “Studies also show that bilingual children perform better on tests for executive functioning, which includes skills such as attention, memory, and problem-solving,” said Rodriguez. “Bilingual students also have an increased ability to understand and communicate with people from diverse cultures, an essential part of interacting in today’s globalized world.”
Nearly every student in the fourth grade class started in the Dual Language Program five years ago in kindergarten, however parents surprised a few students by not telling them they would be going to school in a bilingual learning environment. “I wasn’t scared to start school mainly because my parents didn’t tell me it was dual language,” laughed Myka Steck. “However, it only took a few weeks before I started getting confident that I could speak and learn in Spanish, too.” Rodriguez emphasizes the importance of students developing confidence in speaking both languages fluently, “This is the kind of confidence and cultural competency that will serve these students well as they navigate a world that is becoming increasingly diverse.”
The benefits of bilingualism extend beyond childhood, too. As the Dual Language students progress through their academic careers, they will have an advantage in the job market and in social situations. “In a world where more and more jobs require bilingualism, these students will have an edge over their monolingual peers,” said Rodriguez. “They’ll also be able to communicate with a wider range of people and better-understand different perspectives.”
The collaboration between Woodland and Puerto Rico is just one example of how language learning can enhance cultural understanding and bridge divides. It’s a small step, but an important one, in creating a more connected and understanding world. “As the students continue to learn and grow, they’re not only building language skills, but also the skills and attitudes needed to be global citizens,” said Rodriguez.
Learn more about how Woodland Public Schools educates students and serves the community by visiting the dedicated news webpage at www.woodlandschools.org/news/wsd
Information provided by Woodland School District.
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