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Diana Crofts-Pelayo, Spring 2012 Students

Bilingual families enhance their skills and culture through education

By Diana Crofts-Pelayo

Eloy and Twin boys walking to school

The boys are dropped off at the Language Academy by their father. Taken by Diana Crofts-Pelayo.

Emilio and Santiago get up every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning knowing what to expect of their day: preschool. They wake up, get dressed and eat breakfast. After eating, they are dropped off by their father and  picked up later in the day. This routine now comes as an expectation for a day ahead with other four-year-olds.

Little do the twins realize that the routine they have known for almost a year is a strategic plan their parents have put in place for them to benefit their future.

The preschoolers are enrolled in the Language Academy in San Diego, Calif., which teaches English-speaking students either Spanish or French.

Hillary Park, a Spanish high school teacher, said having full immersion of another language in school is a rarity.

“I don’t think schools do enough to expose students to a second language or culture,” she said. “Immersion in high school is very rare.”

As a teacher for 18 years, she said the American culture usually doesn’t reward those who already speak a second language.

“We (the American culture) do not value being bilingual or bicultural,” Park said. “Rather, we fear them.”

Since the twin boys come from a Hispanic background, their mother, Dawn Wirts, an educator herself, said it’s important for them to maintain the culture through the language.

“They spend a lot of time with their grandmother who only speaks Spanish,” Wirts said. “We want them to bond with their extended family not only in the U.S., but also in Mexico.”

Wirts, a teacher for nearly 10 years, sees the value in the foundation she and her husband are placing for their children. The Language Academy is a single-track, year-round K-8 school, which also emphasizes acquisition of a different culture.

Dawn and boys sit down to read a book

The twins and their mother get ready for bed after a long day at preschool. Photo by Diana Crofts-Pelayo.

Edith Saldivar, a staff analyst for Qualcomm, is a first-generation migrant. She said having family members in Mexico reinforced her to maintain the language.

She said understanding both the language and culture are important factors that Hispanic children should be familiar with from an early age.

“The Spanish language is a cultural heritage for Mexican-American children,” Saldivar said. “I believe that Latinos that have the opportunity to speak Spanish and learn about their cultural roots and history have a good sense of belonging and appreciation.”

Saldivar, who manages projects that deliver services to disadvantaged communities internationally, sees her ability of not only being fluent in Spanish, but also Portuguese,  as an asset.

“I am very appreciative of my bicultural upbringing because it has made it easy for me to adapt to different environments and relate to many of the people and communities I serve through my job,” she said. “I’m one of the few Spanish speakers and the only Portuguese speaker in my division and since we work globally, I am well positioned and competent to complete assignments in many parts of the world.”

Alejandro Renteria is a recent college graduate. He is the first in his family to graduate from college.

He said graduating was not easy, but others helped him ultimately reach his dreams.

Renteria said he lived in two very different cultures at school and at home. However, he said this is a positive in regards to his career aspirations.

“As a lawyer I see the benefit of speaking Spanish because I will be able to reach twice the number of people,” he said. “I can bridge the gap between many individuals because of my multinational background.”

For 4-year-old Emilio and Santiago, they have many years ahead until they realize their parents provided a path for them to become diverse not only culturally, but also linguistically.

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