School's video depicts new path to dual literacy

Email|Print| Text size + By Tanya Pérez-Brennan
Globe Correspondent / February 21, 2008

A Framingham elementary school that implemented a new model of dual-language education at the beginning of the school year has created a video to inform parents about the changes.

Barbieri Elementary School officials produced the video in conjunction with Framingham's public-access television organization, and they plan to show it to parents at a kindergarten tour on Tuesday.

The video describes the school's program, known as the 80/20 model, in which content and literacy instructions are initially conducted in Spanish 80 percent of the time and in English the remaining 20 percent. As students get older, the teaching in English increases until by the third to fifth grades, students are learning equally in both languages.

Under the school's previous instruction model, students who grew up speaking English or Spanish spent more time separated, learning literacy skills in their native language, then slowly being introduced to a new language. School officials say the Barbieri's new program is probably one of the first of its kind for a public school on the East Coast.

The decision to change the program was based largely on research and findings that English speakers were behind in their Spanish, said Lauren Shea, the curriculum program coordinator.

"For these first years, is it a leap of faith because we're going on research?" Shea said. "Yes, definitely, but when I go into kindergarten classes now, it's phenomenal what's happening."

Some parents say they have already seen concrete results.

Lori Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter, Aliya Benabderrazak, is enrolled in the program, said she chose it to challenge her daughter and promote the learning of a second language.

"Her Spanish is really unbelievable for a kid who's been in kindergarten for six months," she said.

Greene said she is so pleased with the results that she is looking forward to enrolling her 3 1/2-year-old son and 17-month-old daughter in the program.

Barbieri's two-way immersion program has been active since 1990, when there were only about 30 such programs in the country, said Susan McGilvray-Rivet, director of bilingual, English as a Second Language, and sheltered English programs for Framingham's schools. Now, there are about 300 such programs, she said.

Officials at Barbieri say they decided in 2006 to use the new model after a two-year evaluation process. The school received a $370,000 state grant both last year and this year to evaluate the program and share its findings with other two-way programs statewide, McGilvray-Rivet said.

"I think we're going to have happier students, teachers, and parents because this model is going to achieve better goals than the old model," she said. "Students will be more bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural by fifth grade."

The 80/20 model is more common in such places as California and Texas, said Elizabeth Howard, a former senior research associate for the Center for Applied Linguistics at Georgetown University.

Howard conducted a seven-year study of Barbieri's two-way immersion program. The results were published in a book that profiled 11 schools with such programs nationwide.

As with any new program, there are challenges ahead, said Minerva Gonzalez, Barbieri's principal. The new program means getting more materials in Spanish, and training and retaining more bilingual staff, she said.

Gonzalez said next week's presentation of the video will give parents a real sense of what the 80/20 model is all about.

It will also air on the town's cable channel soon, according to Stephen Innis, executive director of the Framingham Public Access Corporation. He said residents can check the programming schedule at its website,

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