OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City’s very first dual-language immersion school opened this semester.
Language is the foundation for learning at Western Gateway Elementary.
“It was our hope when we chose to live in this area that this school would open,” said Kristen Adams, the mother of a Western Gateway first-grader.
Students who chose the dual language track spend 50-percent of the day learning in English and 50-percent of the day learning in Spanish.
“This is the best time to give them everything we can give them,” said Vicky Montes, whose daughter Valeria is in the first grade. “The kids have some instruction in English and some instruction in Spanish, so they’re not losing out on what the majority of us do every day, which is speak English. They are getting that added advantage of having the other language and having knowledge about other cultures that do speak Spanish as well. It integrates everything completely. It’s a great start!”
There are 180 students at Western Gateway, enrolled in grades Pre-k, kindergarten and first-grade.
The plan is for the school to fill one additional grade each year; eventually Pre-k through 4th.
By fourth grade, many students will be fluent in both English and Spanish.
“A second language will get you far in life,” said Valeria’s father, Sam Montes.
Adams hopes her son, Theo, gradates from Western Gateway fluent, or nearly fluent, in both
Spanish and English.
She wants her children to be prepared to engage with people from a different culture.
While the curriculum is taught in Spanish and English, there are also students who speak other languages, including Cantonese and Malay.
Those students are on their way to becoming tri-lingual learners.
In Oklahoma City, the language barrier has been relatively unbreached.
As the Spanish-speaking southside grew and prospered, the river remained a geographic divide.
Western Gateway is poised to bridge the gap, forging a middle-ground south of downtown for both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families to get a great education.
“We’ve had the southside community doing their thing and the northside community doing theirs. Western Gateway is a beautiful example of how we can bring these communities together,” said teacher educator, Brittney Santos.
The student body is 55 percent native-English speakers and 45-percent native-Spanish speakers.
The staff is bi-lingual.
There is an option for English-only instruction, but the majority of the school is immersion learning: math is taught in English; science and social studies are taught in Spanish.
“We work to build these classrooms as evenly as we can with native Spanish speakers and non-native Spanish speakers. So, these peers can collaborate together and learn from each other when they’re practicing these two languages,” said Western Gateway Superintendent Heather Zacarias.
Immersion education is decades-old. The benefits are well-documented around the country.
There are established immersion schools in Tulsa, but in Oklahoma City, the idea struggled to take hold.
New residential construction in The Wheeler District ushered in a new wave of optimism for dual-language education.
“It opens a lot of doors, internally, as you’re learning another language you learn a different way of seeing things; a different point of view,” Santos said.
The goal at Western Gateway is to equip students to communicate, connect and value differences.
Administrators are hoping the concept catches on.
“We want to be a school that can be replicated, and you can’t replicate something that seems hard,” Supt. Zacarias said.
Learning to speak and read and write in two languages is a heavy lift. It is a skill Spanish-speaking Americans have been mastering for generations.
Today, in this space, young students from multiple cultures are valued for who they are, the language the speak and the language they learn.
If you are interested in enrolling at Western Gateway Elementary, there are a few seats available for kindergarten and first grade.
The school prioritizes students who live within the boundaries Oklahoma City Public Schools.
However, there are enrolled students from as far away as Blanchard, Oklahoma.
Apply online or call the enrollment office at 405.276.9170.