2015 National Association for Bilingual Education’s Teacher of the Year

Source: The Dallas Morning News

Editorial: A win for dual-language instruction

“It’s just not the benefits of learning another language. It is the benefits of learning another culture.” - Irma DeLaGuardia, a third-grade dual-language teacher at Harry C. Withers Elementary School and the National Association for Bilingual Education’s 2015 Teacher of the Year

“It’s just not the benefits of learning another language. It is the benefits of learning another culture.” – Irma DeLaGuardia, a third-grade dual-language teacher at Harry C. Withers Elementary School and the National Association for Bilingual Education’s 2015 Teacher of the Year

In many nations, the ability to speak more than one language is not only valued but is expected. Instruction starts at an early age when young minds are most able to absorb new concepts in their native tongue and a second language. It is a window of opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

In part, this is what drives Irma De La Guardia, a third-grade dual-language teacher at Harry C. Withers Elementary School, who learned English in a dual-language program when she was a child in Mexico City. She became a believer in this approach, and her hard work on behalf of dual education in Dallas was rewarded this week when the National Association for Bilingual Education named her 2015 Teacher of the Year.

This is a national honor for a woman whose enthusiasm is infectious. Bilingual education encompasses many teaching methods, but at its heart is that literacy developed in a primary language — whether it is English or Spanish — transfers to the second language.

Long considered a shining star in the district’s dual-language education program, Withers serves a predominantly Hispanic, economically disadvantaged enrollment in Northwest Dallas even though the school is in an upper-middle class neighborhood punctuated by private schools.

Historically, its dual-language program has had strong support from parents. The legacy of former Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, the district’s dual-language program pairs English-speaking kids with Spanish-speaking kids. As these children progress through elementary school, they learn reading, math, English, science and social studies in Spanish or English or both.

The commingled instruction in the dual-language program puts students on pace to be literate in both languages by fifth grade, helps narrow achievement gaps and prepares students for life in a multicultural society, said De La Guardia. “When you combine them in a classroom, they help each other learn their second language. You would definitely see a lot of interaction, social learning.”

De La Guardia, 38, moved to Dallas about 15 years ago to work in the family’s import-export business but discovered that teaching was her calling. She enrolled in DISD’s Alternative Certification program and taught at two other DISD elementary schools before she was recruited in 2007 to help start a dual-language program at Withers. “From the very first moment I walked into the classroom I loved it, the idea of being surrounded by children,” she said. “Hopefully, more states and districts will see the benefits of dual-language education.”

The awards have come rolling in since then. In 2013-14, she was Dallas ISD’s teacher of the year nominee for the Bilingual/ESL Education Association of the Metroplex. Last year, she won the Texas Association of Bilingual Education competition, which qualified her for the NABE award that she will receive next month in Las Vegas.

Bilingual instruction isn’t a cure-all for academic challenges, but we’re pleased to see De La Guardia has brought enthusiasm — and national attention — to an important Dallas educational program.

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