When Yancarlos Gonzalez enrolled in kindergarten at Wedgeworth Elementary, he barely knew any English. He is instructed through the Dual Language Enrichment program and shined at the recently held district Spanish Spelling Bee, ultimately winning first place.

Wedgeworth Elementary fifth-teacher Ellen Green encouraged all her students to participate, and Gonzalez was up for the challenge.

“He’s really great at spelling, and he jumped at the chance,” Green explained.

Gonzalez lives in a Spanish-speaking home and is taught by two teachers at Wedgeworth. Green teaches him math and reading in English, while his other teacher, Ginger Aleman, instructs science and social studies, which is written and spoken in Spanish.

When asked what his favorite subject was, Gonzalez was quick to respond, “Spanish,” and then humbly noted he was a strong speller as well.

Green helped train Gonzalez for five Mondays leading up to the competition. Gonzalez was independently diligent in his studies as he flipped through flashcards at home. All of the contestants were supplied with a certified list of more than 1,000 words that could be quizzed on stage. The words were categorized as amateur, capable, semi-professional, professional, academic, and scholar.

When it came to the district competition, “Only in the end I was nervous. When it was only two people, yeah, I got nervous,” Gonzalez admitted.

“Him and two other girls from Dunaway, they were up there for maybe 15 minutes battling it out, and none of them were eliminated because they were all so good,” Green detailed. “So when he won, I could see this flood of relief wash over him because he had finally won. It was a hard battle.”

Green said Gonzalez has also improved his Enlight immensely over the past school year.

“I’m very proud of him, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he will do at the regional level. I’m very proud of him,” Green expressed.

A total of 18 students from Waxahachie ISD campuses that participate in the dual-language program took the stage at Wilemon STEAM Academy to out-spell one another on Feb. 28. The top three competitors advanced to the Regional Spanish Spelling Bee in Dallas on April 18.

Others who placed and will advance included Dunaway students Alicia Garcia in second place and Iris Diaz — who placed first last year — in third.

GROWTH OF DUAL LANGUAGE

English learners are “students whose primary language is one other than English and who are in the process of acquiring English,” according to the Texas Education Agency.

Out of the 10 independent school districts in Ellis County, Waxahachie ISD has the sixth highest number of English learners.

Student enrollment for WISD showed 34.4 percent of students are Hispanic and 8.6 percent are English learners, which equates to 731 students.

The dual language program is offered at Wedgeworth, Dunaway and Turner Pre-kindergarten. At these schools, the English learner rate is much higher than other campuses.

At Wedgeworth, 28.4 percent of students are English learners, while Dunaway has 32.9 percent of its student population in the ESL program and Turner is at 22.5 percent, according to the Texas Education Agency. In the state, 18.8 percent of students are English learners, which equates to over one million people.

Since the 2012-13 school year, the number of English learners has grown steadily — up 152 students.

Waxahachie ISD Bilingual and ESL Coordinator, Viana Armstrong, explained in an email that she believes "the growth in English learners in WISD is proportionate to what is happening in the state/country."

She then pointed to some data compile by the National Education Association that stated, "English language learners — often called ELL students or ELLs — are the fastest-growing student population group."

At WISD, the Gomez & Gomez model of Dual Language of Enrichment has been implemented since 2012. This program is based on a Gifted and Talented model that correlates language, content, and best practices in teaching.

"The most important difference is that G&G DLE is research-based and has been around since 1995," Armstrong noted. "It is now in over 700 schools across the country. Another difference is that some models differentiate language of instruction by day. In the Gómez & Gómez model of DLE, we differentiate language of instruction by content area and consistency is the key."

Students are allowed to opt-in the program in kindergarten, and the district is currently taking applications for the 2019-20 school year.

More information on this will be posted on the WISD bilingual and ESL webpage, as well as on all social media for the district. Armstrong can also be reached at 972-923-4727 or emailed at varmstrong@wisd.org.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450