Harris Bilingual Elementary School has been named one of Colorado’s 2011 Title I Distinguished Schools of the Year for its work and progress in closing the student achievement gap.
Poudre School District’s Harris Bilingual Elementary was one of two Title I schools in Colorado to receive the Distinguished School of the Year award. Soaring Eagles Elementary School in Colorado Springs also received an award for exceptional student performance. The Title I Distinguished School program is a joint project of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Association of State Title I Directors.
Harris Bilingual’s award recognizes the school’s increase in the percentage of proficient students in reading and math CSAP among students eligible for free and reduced lunch. The school increased the percentage of proficient students from 88 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2011, which resulted in decreasing the achievement gap between poverty and non-poverty students. As part of its award, Harris will receive $10,000 to support its whole-school reform efforts.
Principal Julie Schiola credits the success of Harris Bilingual to highly-trained staff that works together to carefully implement the curriculum in two languages and also to supportive parents.
“The teachers teach as a team. They have to be intentional with how the curriculum is implemented and they have to have strategies to make sure students understand the concepts,” Schiola said. “We also have very supportive parents and families. It’s a very cohesive community.”
Harris Bilingual, which has a 50/50 ratio of native Spanish- and English-speaking students, rotates speaking and teaching the PSD standards-driven curriculum in English or Spanish every week, following a dual-language instructional model.
While most subjects like math and science are taught in whichever language is featured that week (depending on the weekly rotation schedule) students receive literacy instruction in their first language for the first couple of years. Once they are more proficient in their first language, they also receive literacy instruction in their second language. With this approach, students become bilingual and biliterate in both English and Spanish by the time they reach middle school.
“Students stay right at the instructional level because they are receiving focused literacy instruction in their first language. By 2nd-or 3rd-grade, they are able to read in their second language,” said Schiola, pointing out that this approach levels the playing field for all students and helps keep students from falling behind in subject areas.
Students are also paired up into English and Spanish bilingual partners. Whichever language is featured that week, the native speaker is the support person for the student learning the language.
“We don’t have a status language here. Everybody really has to work hard. For students to learn a second language and curriculum, we have to offer a supportive learning environment,” said Schiola.
Harris Bilingual and other Title I “Distinguished” schools across the nation will be recognized at the National Title I Conference in Seattle, Wash. in January 2012.