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Saturday school works to stop English-only classrooms from stunting Spanish-speaking kids

Nov 16, 2017

When a child who has grown up speaking Spanish comes to school, that student is going to be sitting in English-only classrooms, being mainstreamed into the English language and culture.

How does this English-all-the-time approach affect those students?

That question hit home for linguist Teresa Satterfield, an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Michigan. She’s the founder of a program called En Nuestra Lengua, a Saturday Spanish school in Ann Arbor.

Satterfield joined Stateside today alongside her ten-year-old son Ángel Zulueta Benkí and his eight-year-old friend Caitlin Dick Ruiz. Both are part of the En Nuestra Lengua community.

Listen to the conversation with Stateside’s Cynthia Canty above, or read highlights below.

On how English-only classrooms stunt native Spanish-speaking kids

TERESA SATTERFIELD: What happens in the U.S. is that usually kids aren’t supported in the home language. So they never really learn how to develop it in terms of reading and writing in that language. And if they don’t learn to use it at a very high level, then they eventually lose it.

Students Caitlin Dick Ruiz and Ángel Zulueta Benkí with linguist Teresa Satterfield.
Credit Stateside Staff / Michigan Radio

… There’s a very real phenomenon called the Latino Academic Achievement Gap, the LAAG, because this affects Latinos more than any other ethnic or racial group in the U.S.

They don’t have the foundation in their first language, which is pulled out, and then on top of that, they’re being asked to learn English and to make these sounds and to create this kind of representation that they never really learned at home or as a young child.

It’s never really sticking for them. And so, actually Latino kids, a lot of them start dropping out in kindergarten because the other thing that happens with English all the time – they don’t feel like they’re really a part of the community and they begin to internalize that their language and culture isn’t valued or isn’t as important. And once those kind of things start happening, we see these kind of identity crises happening, and by high school these kids are lost.

On how En Nuestra Lengua works to support native Spanish speakers between the ages of four and ten

SATTERFIELD: The kids go through a regular school day. It’s an academic program – so they learn science, math, language arts – but we do it all in Spanish. We’re paralleling the curriculum that they would receive in their daily school, but we do it in Spanish.

…From our research, we know that this actually catapults their English skills as well. Also, it’s a way for their parents to be able to support the child, because now the child has vocabulary to say, ‘Well, I’m not really understanding these math problems. The child knows how to say, ‘add, subtract, divide’ in Spanish and that kind of helps the parents, guides them so that parents can also say, “Oh, oh, so now I understand what you’re doing in your regular school and also, in the Saturday school.”

Listen above for the full conversation. You’ll hear students Ángel Zulueta Benkí and Caitlin Dick Ruiz explain how En Nuestra Lengua has affected their lives. You’ll also learn how bilingual brains are different from monolingual brains.

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