Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016.  Continue reading below or Download a PDF version.

Engaging Hispanic families to help prepare their children for school is imperative in Texas, where Hispanics are 38 percent of the population and will be the largest single group by 2020. It is particularly so in San Antonio’s Harlandale Independent School District, where almost 92 percent of the 14,851 students are Hispanic and 87 percent are economically disadvantaged.

One of the efforts underway is Dual Language (DL) Head Start, offered in partnership with Avance, a San Antonio-based national nonprofit and Grade-Level Reading Coalition member. “We wanted our children to be successful and do just as well,” says Elaine Jimenez, senior education coordinator for Avance-San Antonio Head Start. She points to test results showing that 82 percent of Harlandale’s DL Head Start children met or exceeded developmental and learning expectations before kindergarten last year.

Located in eight of Harlandale’s 13 elementary schools, DL Head Start serves 187 4-year-olds, using a “two-way” model — with each class half Spanish-speakers learning English and half English-speakers learning Spanish. Instruction is 90 percent in Spanish, 10 percent English. Each class of 17 children is taught by a state-certified bilingual district-employed teacher and two Head Start instructors. With the added teacher support, “you’re truly bringing quality,” says Rebecca Cervantez, executive director of Avance-San Antonio, Inc.

DL Head Start families commit to join the district’s DL program, offered through seventh grade. The children benefit from having attended DL Head Start “in the elementary school where they go for kindergarten,” says Cervantez. “They begin to adjust and parents do also.”

The district DL program also is “two-way,” enabling Spanish-speakers and English-speakers to pick up each other’s language and culture. “It happens naturally,” says Jimenez. Kindergarten instruction is “90/10” Spanish/English but English gradually increases to 50/50 by fourth grade.

Across the nation, one-third of children enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start grow up with more than one language spoken at home. Head Start’s shift to programs to support children who speak languages other than English include strengthening their home language while developing English language skills. The research base for preschool DL development is just emerging but DL Head Start has won support from some researchers.

Head Start’s Early Language and Knowledge Center and National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, created in 2010 to serve Head Start, note that:

  • Most young children can learn two languages and this offers cognitive, social, family and economic advantages.
  • Practices that intentionally build on a child’s background knowledge and interest promote school readiness.
  • Family culture and strong home language are the foundations for literacy in English, which is critical for school success.

In the Harlandale district, 11 of the 46 Head Start classrooms are dual language. Spanish-speaking and English-speaking families are equally drawn to DL Head Start, which has been offered since 2007. Spanish-speakers want their children to get a quality education while mastering their home language, which provides the foundation to learn English, says Jimenez. English-speakers also want their children to know two languages.

“All the jobs now, if you speak Spanish, you get paid more,” says Gloria Campos, explaining why her English-speaking daughter is in DL Head Start. “Why not start early with a language? I didn’t get to do that. Now she does and she’s benefiting.”

To attract students, DL Head Start reaches out to families involved in Avance’s parenting class and Early Head Start for Spanish-speaking 3-year-olds; participates in kindergarten round-ups; and partners with the public housing authority, churches and health clinics.

Bilingual staff explain benefits and challenges — including some children’s initial struggle when they do not understand a classroom language. “We want parents to understand what’s going to happen and help them,” says Cervantez.

During the program, families learn that language acquisition takes time. Spanish-speakers are particularly drawn to the program’s family engagement events. “It’s about giving the child and parent time to adjust and know they’re supported,” says Jimenez.


For more information, contact Rebecca Cervantez at 210-220-1788 or rcervantez@advancesa.org.

Photos: Avance; Publication Date: Spring 2014

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