Published July 11, 2019 by Rebecca Goldfine

Figuring out What Works in Bilingual Education

In the past decade, dual-language school programs in Dallas, Texas, have spiked as more people embrace bilingual education. This summer, Lauren Elliott ’20 is researching which programs are most effective for Hispanic students, and why.
Lauren Elliott
Lauren Elliott ’20, in Spain

In response to the growing demand, the Dallas school district today has 135 bilingual elementary schools, as well as a growing number of bilingual middle and high schools.

With funding from a Latin American Studies Student Research Award from Bowdoin, Elliott is spending her summer investigating which of these schools most effectively promote Spanish language and cultural preservation in Latinx communities. 

"My biggest question is whether these programs help preserve Spanish language and Hispanic culture," she said. "I am looking at how the programs operate, if they have certified language teachers, and how they work for kids who are underserved."

Bilingual or dual-language programs that teach half in English and half in Spanish are increasing in popularity in the area, according to Elliott, as more families see the value of having their children learn more than one language. The programs also specifically help the Hispanic children who speak Spanish as their first language close the achievement gap, since they can thrive in their Spanish classes while gaining proficiency in English.

But the quality among the bilingual programs varies. In some cases, for example, students who speak English as a first language might be unintentionally favored. "English is still often preferred over Spanish in the schools, and it's kind of a challenge to prevent those students from gaining an advantage over the others," Elliott said. 

Additionally, some programs hire more Hispanic teachers and do a better job of weaving in cultural lessons that foster an appreciation of Latinx cultures and people. "This is not like teaching a foreign language," Elliott said. "You're teaching a language that's all around you and tied into the community. You have to create a curriculum suited for that." 

At the end of her research this summer—which she hopes to continue working on in graduate school—Elliott will write a paper based on her findings.

A Hispanic studies and education double major at Bowdoin, Elliott is bilingual herself, having studied Spanish since middle school. She studied abroad in Spain her junior year.

A few of Lauren's favorite classes

Educating All Students, with Assistant Professor of Education Alison Riley Miller. The class "focused on meeting the needs of different student populations." 

Introduction to Hispanic Studies: Poetry and Theater, with Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Margaret Boyle.  "I really love Spanish literature, and I love poetry in general." 

Introduction to Hispanic Studies: Essay and Narrative, with Research Associate in Latin American Studies Janice Jaffe. "It's a literature-intensive course that gives you a wide range of exposure to works in different Spanish-speaking countries in different centuries."

In the fall of 2020 Elliott will enroll in the Dallas/Fort Worth Urban Teachers program (she's already been accepted). Urban Teachers is a teaching residency program that combines classroom experience with advanced studies in education. All graduates leave with a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Education and are guaranteed a teaching job.

"I've always been interested in education because I've had amazing teachers in my life, and my dad has worked in education as long as I can remember," she said, adding that she hopes to teach elementary school students—and "would love to work in a bilingual classroom."

Interdisciplinary Achievement

In the spring of 2020, Lauren Elliott was awarded the Education Department Award for Interdisciplinary Scholarship. The department selects students for this award to recognize those who demonstrate uncommon passion and purpose in their interdisciplinary study of education. "Lauren’s work on the Multilingual Mainers project is a perfect example of the meaningful work that can emerge from a coordinate major," Professor of Education Doris Santoro said.