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Milwaukee Public Schools offers students Bilingual Multicultural Education program

Nearly 50 schools in the district teach lessons in both English and Spanish.
Posted at 8:15 AM, Oct 07, 2022

MILWAUKEE — From their very first day at Hayes Bilingual School, students hit the ground running, learning subjects like math and history in both English and Spanish.

Hayes is just one of nearly 50 Milwaukee Public Schools that offer what the district calls Bilingual Multicultural Education.

Teachers guide their pupils through lessons in a near 50-50 mix of both languages, with the goal of achieving full fluency.

“Of course, there are students that could learn and acquire that second language when they're older. But, if we get them when they're really young, and they're sponges and they absorb everything, it's very crucial for that native Spanish speaker and also for that student who's acquiring that second language,” said Rebecca Maldonado, a first-grade bilingual teacher at Hayes Bilingual School.

For parents like Irma Gonzalez, she says this devoted attention is extraordinary.

Living in Milwaukee for nearly 20 years, all three of her children began attending Hayes Bilingual as soon as they arrived from Mexico and now her nieces and nephews are following suit.

Gonzalez says she knew it was the right place for them because it offered them a true opportunity at full immersion into both languages.

“It gives the children a double chance at success in life. It’s two languages at the same time. It’s not just speaking Spanish in this school, the students are truly exposed to the culture,” said Gonzalez.

Teachers Katy Bontempo and Guerrero Duran say bilingual programs empower students and their families to become advocates for themselves and can open doors for them in the future.

“We already have so many kids in our community that are proficient in Spanish, and we're trained as teachers here to make the bridge and have them be proficient in both languages. So why not? Why would you get rid of someone's funds of knowledge, their wealth of knowledge? Let's harness it and then utilize it,” said Bontempo.

“When I see my students, to see myself in them, and I feel it's important that when I see their parents, I see my parents as well. I want them to know the things that my parents never knew and give them the opportunity that I missed out on,” said Duran.

Gonzalez says she understands the fear that some parents might have when it comes to making sure their children don’t lose their connection to their culture when they begin attending school.

Still, she says resources like bilingual education can make all the difference.

“In my case, I made the error of thinking that when you come to this country, you need to speak English as soon as you arrive. And while you do need to learn the language, a child will be able to pick it up quickly. It’s different for adults, we need structure. They don’t. They can pick up two languages at the same time,” said Gonzalez.

MPS says enrollment for next year begins in late winter.

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