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Students work together to break barriers

ANNE GROGAN, Sierra Sun

Tahoe-Truckee High School students in Mrs.Hutchinson’s third year Spanish class recently visited for the last time with their companeros in Mrs. Robb’s monolingual first and second grade class at Truckee Elementary.

The high school Spanish students have worked one-on-one with Mrs. Robb’s Spanish-speaking students since the beginning of the year, forming important friendships while reinforcing their language studies. They met for the last time Thursday, Jan. 21.

“They end up being really good friends,” Robb said.

“This program makes language study so authentic to these students,” Hutchinson said, “They’re trying really hard because they’ve bonded with their younger friends.”

Each of Hutchinson’s students wrote a story and compiled a book in which their special companero starred. They gave these books to Robb’s students and read them aloud to their young friends during their final class period together. In exchange, Robb’s students gave bookmarks to their older friends. Hutchinson explained why she has supported a peer bilingual program for the past 15 years.

“The younger students see these older kids struggling to learn their language. This program lets kids know that it’s beautiful to be bilingual. It helps with the development of self-esteem and the appreciation of bilingualism.” She added that the older students gain instructional experience, learning how to teach. Hutchinson said that she uses her experience to help facilitate the teaching process.

When California voters passed Proposition 227 deleting bilingual education from California schools, 100 percent of parents of bilingual students in Truckee signed waivers to allow their children to continue learning in their primary language, Robb said.

“We all want kids to speak and be literate in English. That’s what we all want.” In her class students learn fundamental concepts in their primary language, she said, and in third through fifth grade they begin transferring vocabulary from their primary language to English.

“The concepts must come first,” Robb said.

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