Cover of Flyer for Amherst Dual Language Program. Photo: Amherst Public Schools.

A new Spanish-English dual language program called Caminantes is off to a good start at Fort River Elementary School, according to English Language Learner Coordinator Katie Richardson who presented an update to the Amherst School Committee on October 15th.

Thirty-seven kindergarten children are enrolled in the program which is divided into two classrooms of 18 and 19 students, referred to as the red and blue groups, with eight Spanish speakers in one class and nine in the other. The remainder are from primarily English-speaking families. Richardson said that the English-speaking children are already starting to use their new  Spanish skills.

Students spend half of the school day learning in each language, switching at lunch time. Each week, the language of instruction in the morning and afternoon switches. According to Superintendent Michael Morris, this is because the ability of kindergarten students to process intense learning diminishes as the day goes on.

The children are learning to read in both English and Spanish, and learn math through Spanish. “Special” classes – music, art, technology, library, and physical education – are mostly taught in English. Science and Social Studies subjects will be taught in both languages on an alternating basis. Currently, the science unit – on the needs of plants – is taught in Spanish while the social studies unit on civics and community is taught in English.

Richardson also reported that family engagement is high, noting that a Caminantes Parent Night held in mid-September was attended by 25 of the 37 families.

Morris said that the district has contracted with MABE, the Multistate Association for Bilingual Education, to evaluate the program and issue a report and recommendations next summer.

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