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New way of thinking, learning at Madera elementary school

John Rieping/The Madera Tribune

Principal Mercedes Ochoa of Madison Elementary School, center right, cuts a blue ribbon flanked by city, county and school district officials last week.


Madera Unified School District has embarked on what Superintendent Todd Lile is calling “a new era” in local education.

The highly praised pedagogical shift is Madison School’s Dual Language Immersion Program. Under the plan, presently in place in the school’s five kindergarten classes, 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish and 10 percent is in English.

However, only half the class speaks Spanish; the other half speaks English.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 27 to initiate the program included most of the individuals who are responsible for bringing what is called the “90/10 Dual Language Plan” to Madera.

Two who are being acknowledged as the pivotal players in its adoption locally received special recognition. They are Board Clerk Ed McIntyre and Alma De Luna, former MUSD director of English language learners.

With music from the Howard School band filling the Wednesday morning air, more than 75 educators and community members gathered in a festive mood to launch the “end of the beginning” of what many are calling the most important educational innovation ever to emerge in Madera.

McIntyre, who was joined by the other school board members on the stage, told how he had been drawn into the program and had become an incurable devotee of dual language instruction.

Three years ago, he and Board President Al Galvez were invited by De Luna to go on a field trip to observe dual language instruction in operation in San Jose. McIntyre said he came away excited. “We knew this would be a great program for Madera,” McIntyre said.

With support from Galvez, the board appointed McIntyre as board liaison to the committee that was formed to implement dual language instruction in Madera.

McIntyre acknowledged that he was “alternately excited and terrified.” The board, which gave its unqualified commitment to the program, gave McIntyre just one directive: “Get the highest quality dual language program for Madera Unified."

In the meantime, De Luna left Madera Unified for Merced, and responsibility fell to Janet Grossnicklaus, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

According to McIntyre, Grossnicklaus “pulled all the pieces together” in the next two years,” and in that time, the board clerk became something of an expert on the subject himself.

McIntyre told the Sept. 27 audience at Madison School that research shows that “children who operate in this model just get more intelligent. Their cognitive development goes off the charts,” he said.

The dual language committee developed “rigorous” tests for prospective teachers, some of whom applied from all over the nation.

The district decided to implement the program at Madison, and appointed Mercedes Ochoa as principal and Leonard Perez as vice principal.

McIntyre insists that he wants dual language instruction to spread to other schools in the district. He says he sees it as a GATE (gifted and talented education) program for students.

“This is not just reading or speaking,” says McIntyre, “It is reading, writing, speaking, and thinking. Next year, the plan will begin its climb up the grades to include the first grade classes, but the percentage of instruction in Spanish will drop to 80 percent while English instruction will rise to 20 percent.

Meanwhile, Madison’s kindergarten classes next year will continue the 90 percent/10 percent instruction ratio.

This Dual Language Immersion program will continue to move up at Madison each year until the percentage of instruction in both Spanish and English reaches 50 percent by the 4th grade. The plan will continue through the 5th and 6th grades at 50 percent, both in terms of instruction and English/Spanish speakers.

McIntyre was just one of many exuberant advocates of dual language instruction attending the ribbon cutting.

Superintendent Todd Lile spoke glowingly of the program. “I feel we are at the brink of something brand new,” he said. “The vision that has brought this to be is really an important one to celebrate today. This will change the entire direction of Madera Unified for a whole generation of students.”

Joining Lile in public support for the program was one of Madera’s best known educators, Barbara Flores, Ph.D., 1966 graduate of Madera High School, teacher, author, speaker, and longtime professor of education at California State University San Bernardino.

Flores made a strong case for dual language instruction.

“It is more important than just learning to be bilingual,” she said. “It is being able to carry on a tradition.”

Flores complimented the district and predicted success for the new program.

“When you have a superintendent who is energetic and takes board direction well, then you have a winning team,” she said.

Flores is a member of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, president of the California Latino School Boards Association, and director of finance for the California Association of Bilingual Education.

Flores was followed by Rosa Molina, who pioneered the implementation of dual language instruction in California.

“No child has to lose a language to learn a language, Molina told the audience. “Children in this program will grow into developing a bilingual advantage that comes from studying constantly in two languages,” she said.

A large contingent of community leaders also took part in the ceremony, including County Superintendent of Schools Cecilia Massetti, County Supervisor Robert Poythress, and several members of the Madera City Council.

Representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow and Sen. Anthony Cannella presented congratulatory resolutions to Ochoa.

Visits to the kindergarten classrooms followed the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon.

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