San Marcos' Dual Language Triple Threat
In Dr. Luz Murillo’s second year teaching at Texas State, she has successfully created an influential partnership between three San Marcos institutions. Once a week, children in the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD) Dual Language Program attend an after-school program at Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos focused on biliteracy and reading enrichment and hosted by Texas State Bilingual Education students.
The seeds for this unique partnership were planted in 2017 when Murillo, who is an associate professor in the Curriculum and Instruction Department, attended an Amigas del Centro event and met Centro Program Coordinator Gloria Salazar. The two soon began discussing opportunities for College of Education students to become involved with programming at Centro. Since biliteracy is Murillo’s area of expertise, she pitched an after-school biliteracy enrichment program hosted by the students in her Bilingual Education field block courses, Assessing Literacy EC-6 & Literacy Instruction for EC-6.
After receiving Salazar’s enthusiastic approval, Murillo reached out to Benjamin Grijalva, who was San Marcos CISD’s Director of Bilingual Education at the time. Grijalva, who recently graduated from the College of Education’s School Improvement doctoral program, was excited about the possibility of supplementing Dual Language Program students’ in-class experiences with an after-school program. He called a meeting with the parents of the district’s Dual Language Education students and explained the opportunity to them.
The idea was an immediate hit with parents, and Murillo quickly ended up having a wait list for the after-school program. Murillo wanted to make sure the children got individualized attention, so she was only able to accept two SMCISD students for each of her Texas State students. In the fall, for the inaugural semester of the program, this meant that 19 children participated, but this number grew to 29 in the spring, and Murillo hopes to have 42 SMCISD students participate in fall 2019.
Once weekly, Murillo’s class met at Centro from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. for an hour of lecture during which they went over the theories and concepts in their assigned readings. At 4 p.m., the SMCISD children arrived and dispersed to their assigned rooms to read and write with Murillo’s students until 5:30 p.m. Following the interactive time, the Texas State students regrouped to debrief and make connections between their experiences and the class readings. Following Literacy Research Association guidelines that call for preservice teachers to work directly with children rather than passively observing classroom instruction, Murillo required her students to keep a notebook with weekly entries about their interactions with the children and how those interactions connected to the theories of language and literacy they were studying in class.
"The partnership we have established with Dr. Luz Murillo is essential to the success of our dual language program. Students who participate seem more confident in speaking Spanish and parents have noticed it."
-Dr. Benjamin Grijalva, former Director of Bilingual Education, San Marcos CISD
During their reading and writing time, children were truly engaged with biliteracy in every room of the building. “Children always need to feel that they are playing, even when they are working,” says Murillo. She adds that bilingual books are a great way to teach skills in a way that relates easily to children’s lives. For example, one strategy she taught her students is to read a book aloud and then ask the children to share their thoughts on the book. After the children are given an opportunity to talk about the book, the Texas State students conduct a writing workshop during which the children reflect on the thoughts they shared with the group. Senior Jacqueline Tellez found the learning through play approach to be very rewarding. “Instead of watching and working with kids that have formal instruction, it became an opportunity to work with kids in a playful setting which allowed them to explore, create, and most importantly learn without the pressures of an everyday classroom,” she shared.
Since English is usually the dominant language in the children’s home and school environments, the program focuses on biliteracy development through Spanish-language acquisition. Murillo points to research about the importance of fostering Spanish understanding for dual-language learners and modeling the importance of Spanish as a language for reading and writing. Working with dual language students was equally empowering for the Texas State students, many of whom had a different understanding of language and literacy prior to this course. Like many future bilingual teachers, Murillo’s students may have learned in traditional education systems that literacy in Spanish is unimportant and that codeswitching between English and Spanish is an unacceptable behavior. By participating in the biliteracy enrichment program, these future teachers are gaining a firsthand look at how children use code-switching to develop biliteracy.
While bilingual children are sometimes looked at from a deficit perspective, Murillo says that during the course, her students “realize there’s nothing wrong with bilingual children.” They also learn “that we have to be very careful [not] to label children, because all children are learning at different paces.” Her students leave the course with an understanding of how to teach biliteracy in a comprehensive way; that literacy is a social practice and a way for children to express their identity. Reflecting on the course, Senior Rubi Vargas says that it made her “realize that children have their own ways of learning and understanding” and that “they contribute to their learning as well.”
After a full year of implementing the program, all parties seem extremely satisfied and are hoping to grow the collaboration between Texas State, Centro and SMCISD. According to Murillo, SMCISD teachers have told parents that their children have become more confident readers and writers as a result of attending the after-school program. “The partnership we have established with Dr. Luz Murillo is essential to the success of our dual language program,” says Grijalva, adding “students who participate seem more confident in speaking Spanish and parents have noticed it.” In the upcoming second year of the program, Murillo hopes to grow enrollment and focus on kindergarten and first grade students who have yet to internalize negative societal ideas about Spanish. She also plans to involve and educate parents about biliteracy by offering workshops featuring the authors of the bilingual books their children enjoy. •