KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Senorita Sterling Zavala is known for her warm welcome to students at the George Washington Carver Dual Language School.
The language school is in the Kansas City Public Schools District. Research shows that students who attend bilingual schools have higher overall academic performance than students who attend monolingual schools.
Zavala is one of many bilingual teachers at the school. There, students learn in English and Spanish all day.
“I think it makes them feel like their identity is accepted and valued,” Zavala said. “The idea of kids learning in two languages all day was something I had really never heard of.”
Elizabeth Mendez, a fifth grader, wrote and recited a poem about her memories of school.
“Because I am bilingual, because I speak English, I can help my grandmother translate when we go out to get something to eat. Because I speak Spanish, I have new aspirations and I can help people,” reads Elizabeth’s poem.
“I remind them every day how amazing this school is,” Zavala said.
Graduating knowing two languages was something Zavala never got to experience. Her father is an immigrant from Mexico, although he learned English growing up. She said he never taught Spanish to his children.
Zavala felt it was important to learn the language once in college.
“When I was growing up in an all-English school, I felt like they were discouraged at times from speaking Spanish, even though it was the language they spoke at home,” she said. “To not allow a child to grow into that identity, especially when it’s such a big part of who they are, is such a disservice not only to them but to the community.”
Now fluent, moving from subject to subject, she admits she doesn’t always succeed.
“It’s important for us to admit when we don’t know something,” she said. “I try to be transparent with my students, like, ‘I don’t know how do you know? Could you tell me?’ and I hope they would feel the same with me.
Zavala said she hopes students like Elizabeth will fully understand how this opportunity sets them apart.