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Unidos touts bilingual school at national conference

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Like the children it serves, the Unidos Dual Language Charter School grows a little each year.

The school, where students learn in both English and Spanish, opened in a group of classrooms at Hendrix Drive Elementary School in Forest Park at the beginning of the 2006-07 school year with 120 pre-kindergartners, kindergartners and first-graders. It was Clayton County's first, and so far only, dual-language charter school.

A new grade level is added each school year, and Unidos presently offers classes through the third-grade. It has an enrollment of 314 pupils.

Eventually, the school will offer classes for pre-kindergartners through fifth-graders and serve up to 450 children.

"A lot of parents understand the value of being literate in both languages," said Unidos Principal Nancy Said. "Parents understand we live in a society where their children are going to be around people who speak other languages besides English."

On Tuesday, the school system announced Unidos' Dual Language Coordinator Dell Perry, and second-grade teacher Nancy Lopez, will address the National Association for Bilingual Education conference, which began Wednesday in Austin, Texas.

According to its web site, the association has 20,000 members in 25 states, including teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, administrators, professors, advocates, researchers and policy makers.

Perry will give a presentation Friday on holding informational meetings for parents interested in dual-language education. Lopez will talk Saturday about using interactive technology in dual-language instruction.

Unidos uses interactive white boards like those used in other Clayton County schools, according to Said.

The electronic boards work in conjunction with a projector that displays images such as a student's homework, or other documents. The projectors can also be used to show instruction materials found on the Internet.

The teachers can use a portable electronic tablet to write on the white board from anywhere in the room.

While the youths who attend Unidos are allowed to answer questions in their native language, they are expected to use English and Spanish equally as they get older. By the time they reach the fifth-grade, the pupils will receive equal amounts of instruction in each language, according to Said.

"Our goal is for them to be proficient in both languages," she said.

The school has made Adequate Yearly Progress each year since its opening and was awarded the state Superintendent's Distinguished Achievement Award in 2008 for improvement in Grade One Reading on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

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On the net:

National Association for Bilingual Education: http://www.nabe.org/