ALBANY PARK — A CPS high school in one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods is getting a new language program that can keep up with the students it serves.
Theodore Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson Ave., will roll out a new dual language curriculum next school year that offers students a chance to take two classes taught in a language other than English.
“For years, the idea has been to treat students who come into our schools that speak a different language other than English at home as a deficit — that those students are identified as ‘English learner’ or ‘EL’ students and need to be caught up,” Roosevelt Principal Dan Kramer said.
But forcing a student to become fluent in English as fast as possible ends up preventing them from keeping up with their peers academically, he said.
“That approach is very short sighted in an increasingly diverse 21st Century America,” Kramer said. “Where actually being literate in more than one language is a hugely marketable skill.”
RELATED: After 15 Years Of Struggle, Roosevelt High School Snags High CPS Rating — And A $140K Grant
CPS data shows the school currently has 954 students, and the majority of those enrolled, 70.5 percent, are Hispanic. More than 82 percent of students come from low-income families, 20.3 percent are diverse learners with special education needs and 33.2 percent are limited English learners. The school offers bilingual services in Arabic, French and Spanish as well as refugee services.
Aside from being one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, Albany Park is also a State Department Port of Entry for Immigrants and Refugees, according to Ald. Deb Mell’s 33rd Ward office.
“There are bright young minds in Albany Park that will directly benefit from a dual language high school that teaches biliteracy and celebrates its cultural significance,” Mell said.
Earlier this month, CPS announced it would invest $32 million over the next six years to 32 of its schools to support staffing, training, learning resources and other things needed to create new high-quality programs for International Baccalaureate, STEM, Fine & Performing Arts and Dual Language, among other subjects.
The new dual language program at Roosevelt will be the first dual language CPS high school on the city’s Northwest Side. Since at least 2016, CPS has offered dual language programs at a number of its schools and thanks to the new funding the program will be available at 45 schools during the next school year.
“What we’ve been doing at Roosevelt, and what makes this a transition that’s easy for us, is that we already have a strong bilingual education program,” Kramer said. “I have a lot of teacher that are certified Spanish speakers.”
Moving to the fully dual language model, students who choose that academic track will take at least one class in two languages.
“What’s particularly unique to Roosevelt is this opportunity to build on our strong career tracks with this new dual language program,” Kramer said. “”So for instruction in something like Spanish, the goal is not just teach basic Spanish but for a chemistry class or geometry class be taught half in Spanish. That’s important because you’re developing your academic vocabulary in another language that you can read and write in.”
Because many of the teachers at Roosevelt have fluency in a second language, Kramer said the new funding will allow the school to hire a dual language program coordinator to be solely focused on developing and expanding the new academic track.
“That program coordinator will be working with all of our teachers but their real focus will be developing the curriculum models, learning best practices and going to see example schools,” Kramer said. “We’re very likely going to try and pilot it next year with some of our bilingual classes.”
And as the program is developed at Roosevelt, it will be added as an option to the high school’s application process.
“Earning a Seal of Biliteracy is becoming a certification that colleges and businesses are recognizing as a testament to that person having a high level of not just spoken, but written literacy in a language,” Kramer said.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.