A new program at Kyrene de los Niños Elementary is giving children a unique opportunity to get a jump start on an important skill: learning a second language.
In its first year, the College Bound Dual Language academy is a kindergarten program in which children receive their daily lesson in English for the first half of the day and Spanish in the second, or visa versa.
The class is divided into two groups, and each has their own teacher. The English-speaking class is only in English and the Spanish is only in Spanish. Posters on the walls depicting the alphabet, colors and numbers are all in Spanish.
Niños is one of four Arizona schools to be classified as a "No Excuses University." According to the Kyrene website, such a school is classified as, among other things, using "powerful college symbolism to instill a belief that any child can aspire to a college education."
Niños Principal Ana Gomez del Castillo said the dual language program "fits like a glove" with the ideals of the "No Excuses University" distinction.
"I feel that knowing two languages is such an important thing in this day and age," she said. "Not only for joining the workforce, but it will give them a leg up in high school and college-level Spanish classes."
There is only a kindergarten program currently in place but Dr. Gomez said she would like to see it expanded to more grades.
"The progress, even after two weeks, is apparent," she said. "Imagine what it would be like after first, second, third grade and beyond."
It is not as if subjects are being replaced with Spanish instruction, Gomez said. It is the same as any other kindergarten class, only half is taught in Spanish.
"It is 100 percent still the Kyrene curriculum," she said.
Ahwatukee Foothills parent Isaac Horton has seen results in his daughter, Isabella.
"She can already say the alphabet in Spanish," he said. "And it's not just that she's learning, it's that she's excited about it. She comes home at the end of the day and is excited to show us her Spanish homework."
Dual language instruction was the deciding factor in where the Horton's would send Isabella, 6, to kindergarten.
"We were going to enroll her at the Squaw Peak Traditional Academy until we heard about this program within Kyrene," Horton said. "We want our kids to be able to speak Spanish. We taught them a little by ourselves but a program like this, we knew would enrich whatever we were doing at home."
Also at Niños is a program for 3 to 5 year olds called Bienvenidos Kids Club, which also instructs in both English and Spanish.
Both programs, Gomez said, defines what Niños is all about: preparing kids for high school, college and beyond.
"We are setting them up for success," she said.
To find out more about either program, contact the Niños office at (480) 783-3100.