REGIONAL-Montrose County Re RJ students benefit from strong instruction in the English language, whether they are native speakers or new learners. Now, one local school has stepped forward to offer Spanish as an elective as well, and hopes to offer instruction in other languages in the future.

Because Centennial Middle School has established itself as a school of innovation, it has the right to select its own curriculum. So in addition to implementing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and economics classes, Centennial now offers eighth graders an elective in Spanish. There are presently 20 students enrolled in the elective Spanish as a Second Language class.

“Our intent is to offer multiple languages,” Centennial Principal Joe Simo said. “We have been partnering with PEAK Academy because they have the language software. But we have a Spanish teacher this year, Mrs. Leavitt.  She is teaching and using software, for a blended learning model.”

If the program goes well, Centennial may offer more languages in the coming year, he said. “It’s a new learning environment, and our students and teachers love it. To be able to offer languages as electives at the middle school level is very exciting; we also want to add drama classes and more engineering.”

Districtwide, STEM is also a focus. For now, however, language learning is concentrated on supporting both native and new English speakers.

Heidi Haugen serves the Montrose County schools as English Language Proficiency Act (ELPA) Coordinator. Haugen expresses great enthusiasm for her work, even after 12 years on the job.

“English is something we all need to learn,” Haugen said. “All of our teachers also teach English, within core content areas. And for students with specific needs, we have English Language Development specialists to support our teachers in many ways.”

Students are learning to use English as an academic language, and are immersed in the general classroom environment as much as possible.

“Even English speaking students don’t all know the language,” Haugen said. “When we have a language development specialist working with the regular teacher, everybody benefits.

“There is a language of Science, a language of social studies, a language of math.”

With English Language Learners who are not yet proficient, teachers add movement, signals and other physical responses to traditional vocabulary instruction. Pictures, movies and videos also serve as instructional tools to help students learn English while taking part in regular classroom activities.

Only by recognizing language learning as essential can we help students succeed, she said. “All students have different needs. We teach every child in accordance with their own language skills.”