The ability to speak more than one language is a boon when searching for a job, yet many of Hall County’s bilingual children have trouble overcoming the disadvantages of poverty and delayed English skills.
Tadmore Elementary School wants to capitalize on their language skills with a new designation as a Magnet School of Communication this fall.
Principal Robin Gower said school administrators decided to play up the students’ strengths, rather than focus on their weaknesses.
“Unfortunately in a Title I school, we spend our time looking at what they can’t do and trying to improve on that, but we sat down and started looking at what they can do,” she said. “Our kids have such an advantage, because the great majority of our children are bilingual.”
Of Tadmore’s student population, 76 percent are Hispanic and 49 percent receive services through English to Speakers of Other Languages. And approximately 94 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The change to a magnet school of communication will include a greater focus on teaching children how to use vocabulary in all subjects.
“In everything we do, we can ask, ‘How do you use this to communicate?’” Gower said.
Elementary teachers spend the majority of their instruction teaching children to read, but they don’t focus as much on how to speak and how to listen effectively.
Already, teachers have been preparing for ways to implement communication tools into their lessons, including learning the importance of demonstrating skills such as public speaking.
A study from the Hanen Centre titled “Are Two Languages Better than One?” found bilingual students have greater cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to change their response to a situation, as well as greater “selective attention,” or focus. The study proposes this is due to the bilingual child’s ability to think in two languages and then chose which to use.
A focus on communication could benefit not only bilingual children but those with speech disorders or disabilities.
Gower said Tadmore has a “beautiful third-grade girl who is losing her vision rapidly.” She is learning to use braille and has friends who want to learn with her.”
The school administration was inspired to make the change partly in thinking of the future in store for these young children.
Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield believes the magnet move is a great step for Tadmore students.
“I think we’re really onto something here,” Schofield said. “Rather than seeing bilingualism as a deficit, let’s see it as the incredible asset these kids have.”
A report from the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends in May found, through U.S. Census Bureau data, a record 33.2 million Hispanics in the U.S. speak English proficiently, and the number of Hispanics proficient in English is rising.
The Hall County School Board approved the plan for the magnet school at the board’s last regular meeting. School board chairman Nath Morris echoed Schofield’s sentiments.
“The communication part is huge,” Morris said. “For the kids that are bilingual or are going to be bilingual, they should take advantage of that opportunity.”
Parents outside a school district can choose to bring their children to a magnet school for its particular programs, but Gower said Tadmore isn’t on the “beaten path to anywhere,” meaning parents are unlikely to make the drive.
“But our most important task is to do the right thing for the kids in our building,” she said.
Schofield said regardless, a communication focus particularly concerning bilingual students will benefit them in the near future and in their future careers.
“This is exciting,” Schofield said. “We can pass on kids to middle school that are confident speakers, writers, listeners and readers. As our friend Dr. Seuss would say, ‘Oh the places they can go.’”