My Turn: Kings Beach Elementary School, put in perspective

Molly Holiday
My Turn

Since the 1970s, the Hispanic population in our district has increased from 2 percent to more than 30 percent and is served primarily at Kings Beach and Truckee Elementary Schools. Over the years, Kings Beach Elementary has tried varying models of Bilingual Education to support the Spanish speakers. In the early 1990s, Kings Beach Elementary had a majority native English-speaking population in an English-only program, and a bilingual pogram for its increasing number of Spanish speakers.

By 1997, the Spanish speaking population had increased to approximately 70 percent. Most of the English speakers that lived in the Kings Beach attendance area, left to go to Tahoe Lake Elementary or other schools. Kings Beach Elementary was left with a vastly different student population than any other school in the district, which led to the need for change. More than 20 years of compiled educational data show that any successful program for English learners must be integrated.

In order to attract and retain native English-speaking students and improve achievement for Spanish-speaking students, Kings Beach Elementary implemented the Two-way Immersion (TWI) program in 1997. The English-speaking students in the TWI program come from all over the district and Incline. They would not be at Kings Beach Elementary otherwise. The children receive the gift of bilingualism. In return the classes have equal numbers of Spanish speakers to English speakers. The native English speakers come to Kings Beach Elementary primarily for TWI; unfortunately, this still leaves the English only program without native English speakers as role models.

Currently, there are two different programs being taught at Kings Beach Elementary. Both programs teach the same curriculum as all other schools throughout the district: the same materials, standards and accountability. They are also designed to have the same teacher-student ratios. Participation in either program is based on parent choice. This year, half of the Spanish Speakers opted for the English Only program, while half opted for TWI.

The English Only Program at Kings Beach Elementary consists of 209 students. Six percent are native English speakers and 94 percent are native Spanish speakers. This means that there are 0, 1 or 2 native English speakers in any given classroom. These students are being taught 100 percent in English, with a goal of high academic achievement, even though the teacher is the only native English role model in most cases.

The Two-Way Immersion Program at Kings Beach Elementary consists of 236 students. Fifty-eight percent are native English speakers and 42 percent Spanish speakers. This means that most classes have a balanced number of English and Spanish speakers. All students are being taught in both Spanish and English in all grades. The goal is high academic achievement, as well as bilingualism and bi-literacy by fifth grade, for students from both linguistic backgrounds.

How are the programs working? According to last year’s California Standardized Test (CST) data, TWI is demonstrating the most success for Spanish speaking students. Students in the English only program are not showing the same results. They lack integrated classes with English role models. Change is needed for these students to be more successful.

Molly Holiday works at Kings Beach Elementary School.

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