As a child growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico, Isis Garcia dreamed of being a teacher and having her own classroom of students. Back then, she never imagined that classroom would be in the United States and that she would be part of a Dual Language program, teaching children who – like she once did – are learning how to communicate in two languages.
“I was a second-language student here (in the U.S.) myself,” Isis says. “It was very difficult. It requires a lot of effort.”
Isis moved to Colorado over two decades ago, and did not speak any English. Though she had already completed three years of college in Mexico, once she came to the U.S. she had to start all over again, first earning a GED and then beginning on day one of college.
“That will tell you how much I wanted to teach,” she says. “I was willing to go through all of that again.”
Overcoming Challenges and Embracing Bilingual Teaching
Isis Garcia worked hard at learning to speak English, and spent time as a volunteer in schools, where she quickly realized there was a need to help students who did not speak English. She originally planned to be a classroom teacher and use her skill of being bilingual to help students. But after learning about Thompson School District’s Dual Language Immersion program, she knew that would be a perfect fit for her abilities.
Dual Language Immersion, which is offered at four Thompson School District schools, provides a learning environment that is 50-50 in English and Spanish. Students in the program learn standards-based content in both languages.
“I thought, this is what I want,” she recalls. “The students here, no matter where they are coming from or what their background is, they feel included and that makes them confident. They don’t judge each other because they are all learning, so that makes them more kind and they have more empathy and respect for each other.”
A Dream Realized at Truscott Elementary
Isis Garcia has been teaching in TSD for five years, and she says working at Truscott Elementary has been a dream come true for her.
“Since the first day I stepped into Truscott, I felt welcome and I knew I wanted to work here. I’ve never seen a school with such strong teacher teamwork as it is here,” she says. “It feels like a big family, and I’m very thankful to be here.”
Isis says another benefit to students in the Dual Language Immersion program is gaining an appreciation for other cultures.
“Here at Truscott, the staff are culturally diverse and competent,” Isis says. “I’ve grown so much, and I’ve grown my teaching practices to meet students’ cultural needs. We learn about other cultures a lot.”
One project Isis uses for her second graders is having an Elf on the Shelf (named Baba Boy Bronco, by the students) that the students write to in a journal each day leading up to winter break. The elf speaks only Spanish, so the students have a chance to work on their conversational and writing skills while having fun describing their days.
“Knowing more than one language opens opportunities for everything – more communication skills, better learning. If I could learn three or four more languages, I would,” Isis says. “These kids will be bilingual and biliterate, and will be more helpful when they go out into the world.”
Isis believes that bilingualism is an invaluable skill that is constantly growing in its usefulness.
“It’s not just in the school setting, it’s in our communities and our world,” she says. “More and more people are speaking more and more languages.”
And for students, Isis believes having a safe place to learn these other languages benefits not just their language skills, but their overall health.
“That’s something I notice, their self-esteem. They don’t spend all day feeling like they can’t keep up,” she says. “I don’t see kids judging each other because they are used to others who are learning. It’s learning for everybody. When I see these kids out in the community and know their abilities, I know we are making good citizens.”