The Austin Chronicle

AISD and St. Edward's Partner for Dual Language Program

By Megan Menchaca, July 31, 2019, 7:00am, Newsdesk

As part of the Austin ISD Dual Language Summer Bridge program, many incoming bilingual ninth graders are receiving their first introduction to college life this week.

The program is offered to dual-language students in middle school who are preparing to enter AISD’s dual-language programs at Akins High School and Travis Early College High School. During the Summer Bridge program, which is taught entirely in Spanish at St. Edward's University, students will explore their South Austin campus, learn about financial aid opportunities, and hear from entrepreneurs in Austin.

Arcelia Hernandez, assistant professor of bilingual education at St. Edward's, helps coordinate the program at the university. Hernandez says the program gives students the information that they need to successfully navigate high school and also allows them to consider the possibility of attending college in the future. “It's really important that the information be given directly to students and parents, of course, but especially the students because they oftentimes need to navigate the system for themselves and advocate for themselves,” she says. “So, they will need all of this information to take back to the family.”

Hernandez says St. Ed’s decided to host the program as part of its commitment to making college more accessible to people who have traditionally not considered it. “St. Edwards is a mission-driven institution and part of that mission includes making college or education accessible to everyone,” she says. “We were very happy to partner with Austin ISD for this program because we care about students being successful in public schools and we really want to support the community.”

Students can enroll in AISD dual language programs as early as kindergarten, and the summer bridge program has been offered to incoming ninth dual language graders for the past two years. Pedro Gonzales, the secondary dual language coordinator for Austin ISD, says he eventually wants to create a program that lasts from pre-K to 12 grade. “We are responding to this huge interest in the community in Austin and all over the United States where there are these bilingual programs,” Gonzales said. “There's definitely a buy-in from the community.”

Florina Castillo enrolled her son Israel into the program because she thinks it will help him transition from middle to high school. She says being bilingual is important for her son’s future prospects. “I'm convinced that being bilingual helps with understanding of culture and it’s also a big plus academically,” Castillo says. “Hopefully, I can push him to take better AP classes and get high scores for his college application after he completes this program so he can get ahead in college and get a good job.”

Gonzales says students in the dual language program feel a sense of accomplishment as they celebrate their bilingualism and biculturalism. “There are a lot of students that are coming from English-speaking homes that are learning Spanish, as well as our Spanish-speaking students who are taking ownership of both languages,” Gonzales says. “They get this sense of identity and community by being together and seeing teachers and administrators speak the same language or encourage them to be bilingual.

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