Nationally-recognized dual language consultant visits East Aurora Unit District 131
On Oct. 21-22, East Aurora Unit District 131 welcomed Dr. Sandra Mercuri as she visited district offices and several schools. Mercuri is a nationally-recognized educational consultant in second language acquisition, dual language education, and curriculum integration for biliteracy development.
Mercuri was selected two years ago to provide consultation for the District 131 dual language program. Dr. Rita Guzman, executive director of language acquisition and early learning for District 131, said Mercuri was chosen because of the great wealth of experience she brings in dual language.
"We were very impressed with her body of work and research in language acquisition," Guzman said. "Her books and articles on dual language have guided many dual language programs."
With over 28 years of experience in teaching in K-12 schools and at the university level in Argentina and the United States, Mercuri is working with EASD 131 to train dual language teachers through professional development presentations, modeling dual language strategies, and observing teachers teach to offer expert feedback.
On this visit, Mercuri arrived to offer guidance with targeted professional development and modeling strategies while getting an overview of the district's program. The hope is that her experience and support for the dual language classroom will create stronger language teachers.
For Mercuri, the visit was significant because it would be her first opportunity to observe the program in person. Due to the pandemic, all training so far has taken place virtually.
"For me today, it is a big thing because I am going to be really looking at the classrooms, talking to administrators, and engaging the dual language conversations to see how we can together move the program forward," said Mercuri.
"I will be looking for things that can be revised or enhanced in order to provide the best education for the kids here in East Aurora."
Mercuri visited several elementary schools to meet with principals and better understand how the dual language program is progressing. She also met independently with a few teachers to co-plan a lesson using a teaching method known as "Preview, View, Review" (PVR), where both languages are used to teach a student lesson.
Using the PVR teaching method, "Preview" is the first step, where the lesson is taught in the student's native language. "View" comes next, where the same lesson is taught in the language the student is learning. Finally, "Review" is where the lesson content is taught in both the native and learning languages to check for students' understanding.
Teachers were grateful to have a consultant with Mercuri's credentials at their disposal in the classroom.
Dulce Chavez, a first-grade teacher at Gates Elementary, was excited to receive guidance from Mercuri.
"I was thrilled to learn that she was visiting our district," Chavez said. "I have attended a couple of her professional development sessions, and I have learned so much from her. I was even more excited to meet with her and have a one-on-one co-planning session."
"She is very knowledgeable and passionate about dual language," said Chavez. "We were planning a math lesson, and Dr. Mercuri helped me visualize my students actively participating and achieving the planned lesson and reaching their language goals."
Chavez said she specifically recalls Mercuri reminding her of the importance of using sentence stems, visuals, and Total Physical Response (TPR) to engage all learners, regardless of their language development and abilities. Chavez said this reminder would help her grow as a dual language teacher.
"As a first-year teacher, I am impressed to see how the district has created integrated units to teach students so they can be bilingual and biliterate," Chavez said. "The dual language department has supported me with resources, visits, and professional development so that I can teach my students to the best of my ability."
Later in the day, Mercuri provided training on PVR by showing teachers a recording of a modeled lesson and facilitated a discussion for implementing it into their teaching.
Mercuri expressed great confidence in the East Aurora dual language program and said the greatest beneficiaries of the program would be the students.
"By having this initiative of having all students enrolled in dual language, you are positioning your graduates of East Aurora in a better place in regards to a globalized world," she said.
"They are going to be definitely prepared with another language, and they will be more marketable. You will have all the benefits of having gone through a dual language program."
Mercuri stressed the goal of having all students become bilingual and biliterate.
"Not just being able to speak the language, but being able to navigate different contexts, where they can read, they can write, they can negotiate with another, so it is really an asset from an intercultural perspective, but also a financial perspective," she said. "In the marketplace, they will have a much better chance in the future."
Mercuri hopes educators realize that language can only develop through the content and not in isolation.
"Educators should have this in mind as they plan and deliver instruction and as they interact with others," Mercuri said. "This is at the core of dual language -- making connections and helping the kids see the world of language literacy and content as one."
"I am very much looking forward to seeing classrooms today, and I am very honored to be part of the dual language journey in East Aurora."
Dual language program
The dual language program at East Aurora Unit District 131 is designed to ensure that all students become bilingual, biliterate, and multicultural, with the ability to engage meaningfully with their learning in an increasingly global society.
Starting in the 2020-21 school year, almost all kindergarten classrooms became dual language classrooms. The following school year (2021-22), all first grade classrooms district-wide became dual language programs. The district plans to grow the dual language program by one grade each school year until grades K-12 are dual language classrooms.
There are two types of dual language programs in place. The first is a one-way program, where dual language classrooms have all Spanish-speaking English learners. They start instruction in kindergarten at an 80:20 language ratio. This means that 80% of their instruction is in Spanish, and 20% is in English.
The second type is a two-way program, where the dual language classroom has students who are Spanish-speaking English learners, plus students who are dominant English speakers. Instruction is provided at a 50:50 ratio. This means that 50% of the instruction is in Spanish, and 50% is in English.
The goal of all of District 131 dual language programs is to prepare students for the future with abilities to listen, speak, read, and write in both English and Spanish. The dual language program provides students the opportunity to learn English and Spanish while maintaining high academic standards.