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Borman shaping trilingual students with IB implementation

Whitney Villenari works with students on world language skills
 
Second-grader Clara Castro excitedly flipped through flash cards, challenging her classmates to match the appropriate photo with the corresponding word. She whispered to them in a different language – one not normally used in the hallways at Borman Elementary.

At Borman, many students chat excitedly in both English and Spanish, and most share translations in Spanish, their native language. Cheers erupt when matches are made and teams progress.

“Utilisez-vous le français?” says Madame Whitney Villenari when students are supposed to be speaking in a third language. “Make sure you are using French.”

For the school’s first and only world language teacher, Madame Villenari, the decision to add French at the elementary school not only created an opportunity for her to pursue a career in teaching, it is creating trilingual students – those who speak three languages fluently.

The school is nestled in an older part of Denton, where more than 80 percent of its students come from economically disadvantaged families, and more than half have already learned English as their second language.

“Learning French is a little easy,” said second-grader Clara Castro. “Some of the words that we pronounce in Spanish are almost the same in French.”

The school decided to add French instruction for all students in kindergarten through fifth grade after conducting a survey with parents. The staff also met with researchers from the world language departments at both Texas Christian University and The University of North Texas to help validate the decision.

“My bilingual students are picking up the language so quickly,” said Ms. Villenari. “I am starting to hear more and more French phrases in the hallways, and they are definitely connecting it to other areas of their lives. They are constantly coming into my classroom with stories of French words they see around town, in their classrooms and on TV.”
 

 
“I am starting to hear more and more French phrases in the hallways ... [Students] are constantly coming into my classroom with stories of French words they see around town, in their classrooms and on TV.”
 
WHITNEY VILLENARI, WORLD LANGUAGE TEACHER
 

 

In February, Denton ISD announced Borman has become just the second elementary school in the district to complete International Baccalaureate certification, giving it world-respected academic instructional backing. Teachers and staff worked diligently with campus and district administrators over the past few years to gain accreditation from the Switzerland-based International Baccalaureate Organization.

“We researched the benefits of both languages [French and Spanish] and found that a large percentage of vocabulary found on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and in higher education had connections to French,” said Principal Robert Gonzalez. “We discussed research on how well bilingual students perform in French classes because of the connections that can be made between Spanish and French.”

The International Baccalaureate Organization requires that all students in the Primary Years Programme – the elementary-level portion of its offerings – have the opportunity to learn in more than one language from the age of 7. As part of the lengthy certification process, Borman received two commendations because it began French instruction in kindergarten. Denton ISD is one of only two public school districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to offer the IB curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grades.

“I’m so proud of the work our teachers and staff have put in to make this a reality for our students and community,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “IB is an academic designation that is known around the world for its rigor and collaborative learning experiences, so this will only benefit our students, school and district moving forward.”

The IB curriculum is based on and maintained as an international standard built around global concepts and living – an international mindedness. Students learn how to analyze, apply critical thinking and reach considered conclusions about people and other cultures through study.

“My favorite thing about this schools is all of the different types of things we are learning,” said Clara.

Evidence of the school’s commitment to a variety of academic offerings also exists down the hall from Madame Villenari’s room in the EXPO class. In the class, for students identified as gifted and talented, a small group is commonly huddled around a table full of math manipulatives. They spiritedly play a game using multi-sided dice that they created using a 3D printer in the robotics lab.

This year, the school fielded its inaugural robotics team to compete in the First Lego League thanks to a partnership with Devon Energy. Students designed and built a robot using Lego Mindstorms technology, then competed on a table-top playing field.
 

The Borman team was excited to advance to the second round of competition, crediting much of their success to the donation of four robots from Devon and the work of a volunteer, Carlos Muniz, a retired logistics professional and active participant in the district’s Grandparents in Public Schools Program.

“Five years ago, I started coming one day a week with a group of volunteers from Robson Ranch to read with second graders,” said Mr. Muniz. “Two years ago, Ms. [Adriana] Denison announced that the school was starting a Robotics Team, and boy, did I get hooked.”

Mr. Muniz added that he believes the program is the perfect combination of art and science, offering students the opportunity to work creatively while solving real problems.

“I am continually amazed that these are great kids from low-income families who are building robot Legos, and programming them,” said Muniz. “We found that many of them have not even played with Legos until they got to school because they are so expensive, yet here they are excelling at competitions.”

Mr. Muniz said he loves to see the progress students are making and that students from all different backgrounds at Borman seem to thrive when it comes to using technology even though their exposure to devices outside of school seems to be limited.

“At our school, students are driving learning and our teachers and volunteers are modeling learning,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “The possibilities are limitless, and as educators we know we don’t have all the answers, yet we find that our students are continually challenging us and pushing us to learn new things to stay ahead of them or at least alongside them.”