Artwork displayed in a school classroom.
Photo courtesy of Jordan Kartholl and “The Star Press.”

Story by Liz Rieth, ’21

Third-grader Ryder Hawkins regularly helps his teenage brother, Javonte, with his Spanish homework. The two often compete to see who can count higher or say phrases faster in the world’s second-most spoken language.

Ryder Hawkins studies Spanish
Ryder Hawkins, a student at West View Elementary, excels in learning the world’s second-most spoken lan-guage. Dual language students “are more willing to dive in, take risks and try to figure out what’s going on,” says teacher Kelsey Pavelka. (Photo courtesy of Char Hawkins)

For Ryder, Spanish has been a second language since kindergarten, when he enrolled in Muncie Community Schools’ Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program at West View Elementary. Javonte is taking his first Spanish course as a sophomore at Muncie Central High School.

Kelsey Pavelka, the second-grade teacher in the dual language program, said she is not surprised Ryder is able to guide his older brother, as roughly 80% of Ryder’s day has been taught in Spanish since kindergarten.

Starting in fourth grade, the program shifts to 50% Spanish and follows students until they graduate from high school. This model allows Ryder to become bilingual, biliterate, and culturally competent, Pavelka added.

Pavelka, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said the benefits of bilingual education span beyond the acquisition of language and cultural understanding. She referenced research that demonstrates students in dual language programs develop greater cognitive flexibility, compared to their English-only counterparts.

“Dual language students are more willing to dive in, take risks and try to figure out what’s going on,” said Pavelka. “Whereas students who don’t have that cognitive flexibility are often more hesitant.”

Since Muncie Community Schools (MCS) launched the program in 2017, Pavelka and her colleagues have worked with the district to promote the DLI program, but she said it’s difficult to find time to advocate the program on top of full-time teaching.

Promoting community awareness

To help support their efforts, Ball State Associate Professor of Spanish Chin-Sook Pak is guiding 17 students in a capstone Spanish course to create a booklet to promote the program among both families and educators. The class researched, designed, and produced the booklet to showcase the benefits of the program in both Spanish and English. MCS will distribute it digitally and in print to the Muncie community in January.

“It’s the only program of its kind in Muncie,” Pak said. “Every child in public school should be given [the] right to learn a foreign language.”

Justin Persinger, a senior Spanish education major in Pak’s class, said he hopes to teach Spanish after graduation. He said the experience — both creating the booklet and learning about Muncie’s DLI program — has helped him see how he can adapt his future classroom to fit his students’ language needs.

In addition to improving their attention and memory as well as more creativity and problem-solving skills, bilingualism opens up job opportunities for students, said Kathy Ramos, a first-grade DLI teacher at West View. Bilingual individuals have “an advantage against other applicants” for scholarships, educational opportunities and jobs. It also prepares them to navigate in a global economy.

6 Benefits of Learning Second Language

For the majority of the world, bilingualism is the norm. In the United States, only 20% of the population speaks a language other than English in the home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, being bilingual can impact speakers in several positive ways. According to the Foreign Language Annals, a peer-reviewed quarterly magazine, bilingualism:

  1. Increases job opportunities.
  2. Makes speakers more culturally aware and competent.
  3. Allows speakers to be more creative than monolinguals.
  4. Improves abilities like organizing, attention span and memory retention.
  5. Equips speakers with larger vocabularies in both languages than a monolingual has in one.
  6. Offsets dementia or Alzheimer’s by five years.