Highland Park ISD plans to launch an elementary-level Spanish learning program next year. It's a project that most in the district are embracing -- after all, multilingualism is linked to dozens of developmental benefits. Bilingual individuals are often smarter, better listeners and in later life may see a delay in the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
"The research is out there for early language acquisition, usually the younger the better," says Eric Inboden, a Spanish teacher the district recently hired to organize the program. "It improves one's abilities cognitively, improves abilities in their own language, improves socialization and knowing different cultures, and builds a base knowledge that can be used in math, social studies, et cetera."
In other words, Highland Park is playing a game of catch-up with the students Dallas Independent School District, who are trouncing those poor kids in The Bubble stuck in their monolingual world.
District-wide, just 0.7 percent of HPISD students were enrolled English Second Language classes last school year. By comparison, 39 percent of Dallas ISD students were English Language Learners in the 2011-2012 school year.
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(What's the difference between ESL and ELL? The letter "S," as near as we can tell. They do love their acronyms in the education field.)
By the fifth grade, most DISD kids are phased out of the ELL program, when they are judged to be fluent in English, or can independently handle English-language classes. By the time they reach middle school, that's close to half of all DISD kids that experience the neurological benefits of multilingualism, compared to just a smattering of Highland Park students.
"You'll notice some of those cognitive abilities in ESL students. So it definitely parallels," says Inboden. "Learning a second language as a supplement to your mother language is going to cause you to have some certain neurological connections."
While it's still in the exploratory stages, it's clear the district is hoping Highland Park kids will soon be able to compete with their predominantly bilingual district neighbors. Starting foreign language instruction from an earlier age could have a huge effect on HPISD students' Spanish fluency, bringing Highland Park kids -- those poor dummies -- one step closer to the linguistically superior DISD students.