The multilingual program at Minooka School District 201 is doing a fantastic job this year by state of Illinois standards.
The Illinois State Board of Education has given a Title III Bilingual Education Award to the program for fiscal 2022-23, said Erika Martinez, the multilingual services coordinator at this pre-K to grade eight school. The award comes with some extra funding for the program, Martinez said.
District 201′s multilingual program has just seven teachers for the program’s 201 students, whose home languages include Spanish, Polish, Ukrainian and Portuguese, along with Urdu, Romanian, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog and more, Martinez said.
But these teachers are successfully advancing the students’ language proficiency, she said. One family in the school even speaks lingual, a native language from a tribe in Congo in Africa, Martinez said.
“You name it, we probably have it,” Martinez said about the home languages at the school.
But District 201 also has a high number of students exit the multilingual program, which is good, she said.
“That means they have reached English proficiency,” Martinez said.
Martinez said multilingual teachers use a variety of resources to communicate with students, especially when teachers can’t speak the home language. Resources include captioning, pictures, videos, technology, translator headphones and translations apps, which allow students to “to talk to us and feel part of the conversation,” Martinez said.
“Every day is a new challenge,” Martinez said, later adding, “I love working with these families.”
The multilingual teachers also use frontloading with the students to help prepare them for upcoming lessons, Martinez said.
“The classroom teachers find out what the upcoming books, units or lessons will be on,” Martinez said in an email. “The ML teachers then explore the lesson or books coming up and find vocabulary words that students may have difficulty understanding or provide experiences using hands-on activities.”
Sometimes the multilingual teachers will invite other parents – known as “parent buddies” – to help out, especially with families new to the multilingual program, Martinez said.
Not only is District 201′s multilingual program growing “very, very rapidly,” Martinez feels the district may open a dual-language program in a few years.
“Our numbers are getting high, especially with the Spanish-speaking population, and our caseload is growing,” Martinez said. “Every year it’s growing more and more. Our teacher caseload is the in the 30s and 40s per building.”
And that’s just one reason why she’d love to see a dual-language program at District 201.
“The need is here,” Martinez said. “The interest is here.”
With a dual-language program, all students would learn their lessons in English and a partner language. For instance, teachers would teach all subjects in Spanish on certain days of the week and then teach the same subject in English on the other days, Martinez said.
The benefits of dual-language education go beyond speaking a second language, Martinez said. Bilingual students often have enhanced problem-solving skills, high reading comprehension scores in both languages and greater sensitivity to different cultures, Martinez said.
“The brain is able to think in different languages,” Martinez said.