COMMERCE CITY, Colo — Inside the classrooms at Dupont Elementary School in Commerce City, learning goes beyond the subjects taught. Teachers explore bilingualism, and for some students, positively reinforce their bicultural identity.
"For some of our students, it’s giving them the ability to make connections with their family and I think that can close generational gaps," said Fernanda de Luna, one of Dupont's bilingual kindergarten teachers.
The school became the first in the Adams14 District to implement a two-way dual language program in August 2021. Before, the one-way dual language model only applied to students who spoke mostly Spanish.
Principal of the school, Brian Clark said under the one-way model, students learned the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math in Spanish and would then transition into English classes.
"Those students who are English-dominant or English-only can come and participate in our bilingual programming that we’re offering, so that’s the new piece for this year," said Clark.
Last year, de Luna taught in the bilingual department, but the new program has changed her student population. Before, she was teaching students who were stronger in Spanish. This year, she said her class is a mix of those who are either stronger in Spanish, English, or somewhere in the middle.
"There are times where students who are stronger in Spanish switch to English to support the student who is stronger in English and so that’s been really interesting to see," de Luna said.
Aside from the cognitive and academic benefits that come with being biliterate, de Luna takes the most pride in the personal connections that come with it.
"To see them take ownership of the language has been really encouraging," she said. "For some of our students it’s giving them the ability to make connections with their family and I think that can close generational gaps."
de Luna attended Dupont herself and graduated from the Adams14 district. She said it was important to her to return to her community to reach to increase representation for other Hispanic/Latino students who look like her.
"I think it’s important to be able to connect with students culturally and linguistically because I feel like it recognizes who they are," she said. "It makes them feel seen within an education system that may have otherwise not recognized them fully for all their strengths."
Dupont Elementary is a Title I school, meaning 75% or more of their students are considered low-income. Clark said 90% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 60% - 65% are second language learners.
In October, the district's accreditation was removed after several years of low academic performance.
"We're not where we want to be yet, but we have a solid plan to get us where we need to be," Clark said.
Clark said they hope to one day move to a model where students could take assessments in the language they are stronger in, which would be a more equitable approach.