Biliterate and Beyond at Rachel Carson Elementary School
“Bilingual education was not as well developed and implemented as it is now,” says Principal Javier Arriola-Lopez of Rachel Carson Elementary School, reflecting on his own experience learning English. After immigrating to the United States at age 16, Javier was challenged by taking classes in a non-native language. He carried this personal experience into his education career and used it to transform bilingual education at Carson Elementary.
Since his arrival, Javier has implemented a Dual Language Instruction program at his school. “I had a good experience in school,” recounts Javier, but “the neighborhood I was living in− it was turmoil,” he says. The Dual Language program he created is designed to help students rise above any unrest in their lives and provide them valuable skills for the future. The goal of the program is to develop students as equally literate in English and Spanish and to help them become competitive bilingual thinkers.
But Javier is pushing his students beyond bilingualism, explaining that “being biliterate is hugely important and makes students competitive in the job world.” Biliteracy differs from bilingualism in that its goal is ensuring students will be able to read and write – not just speak – fluently in two languages. The program at Carson also serves to bridge the gap between cultures as students are able to join dual language classes regardless of what language they speak at home. Javier sees this as a way of “reaffirming identity and connecting communities.” He wants his students to be proud of who they are.
Students at Carson are also afforded another language development opportunity: computer science. While CPS recently made computer science a high school graduation requirement, it is not currently required in elementary schools. Javier decided his students needed exposure to this vital language before they reached secondary school, so he partnered with outside organizations to inform curriculum. In 2014, he introduced the CS for All program to his elementary students. The program is aimed at increasing students’ preparation for the 21st century economy and to help grow the neighborhood’s businesses. “Your children already know two languages. I want them to learn a third one: the language of computer science. I want them to be more marketable when they grow up,” Javier explains.
There is no doubt that Javier is leaving his elementary students exceptionally well prepared for their lives beyond school. While he wants his students to be prepared to live and work anywhere in the world, Javier also wants to create a culture of appreciation for Hispanic heritage in Carson’s Gage Park neighborhood. Javier says, “We should create spaces for [students] to use Spanish and English. Each language benefits the other.” For Javier, fostering a sense of identity− and pride in that identity− is all about lifting the community.