SAN JUAN, Texas – The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network has described a recent vote by the PSJA board of trustees on bilingual education as a “monumental win.”
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD was already recognized as a national leader in the field. By adopting an enhanced Dual Language Enrichment Program, its trustees believe it has put in place an academic experience designed for students to develop stronger cognitive and academic skills through the development of on-level bilingualism and bi-literacy.
Lourdes Flores chairs the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s education working group. She is also director of ARISE Adelante, a community group that helps colonia residents in Hidalgo County. Her education working group pushed to get PSJA to enhance the Dual Language Enrichment Program.
Flores said that through a rigorous curriculum, students who participate in the PSJA program will be academically instructed in English and Spanish, from Pre-Kinder to 12th grade.
As a result, she said, students can master both languages and enhance their education by developing the ability to fluently speak, read, write, and think critically in both English and Spanish, allowing them to compete successfully in a global economy.
PSJA Dual Language graduates receive an additional seal on their high school diploma, the Seal of Bi-literacy, certifying them as bilingual and bi-literate. Only one other school district in Texas offers a Bi-literacy Seal to their students. Employers and education institutions recognize and validate PSJA’s Biliteracy Seal.
“PSJA-ISD has made history in passing this policy. This is a landmark moment for the community and we could not have gotten here without the parents who advocated to make that change,” Flores said.
“Our children will now be offered a chance for success and an opportunity to maintain their roots and culture for generations to come.”
Flores noted that RGV-EVN’s education working group has focused on dual language instruction for several years in collaboration with ARISE and other invested community members throughout Hidalgo County.
“Community leaders, ARISE staff and RGV-EVN working group members organized to attend board meetings, give testimony, and meet with the board as well as with former PSJA Superintendent Dr. King and current PSJA Superintendent Dr. Jorge L. Arredondo to express support of the policy and urgency for its passage,” Flores said.
The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network is a coalition of nonprofits that aim to advance equity along the US/Mexico border in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties. The coalition focuses on housing, health, labor and education, with a special emphasis on immigration and civic engagement.
Superintendent Arredondo said that while the PSJA Dual Language Enrichment Program has been in existence since 1995, the new district policy will ensure the program has the necessary support to continue developing students who achieve high academic standards in both languages.
“At PSJA ISD we are committed to providing life-changing opportunities for our students and preparing them to succeed in today’s global society,” Arredondo said. “We know that the PSJA Dual Language Enrichment Program is fundamental in helping us enrich the multicultural experiences are students can have, which will help open many doors for them in the future.”
PSJA School Board President Jorge Zambrano said that as part of the policy, PSJA has committed to continue hiring and retaining quality staff, funding appropriate professional development, and providing program facilities and instructional resources.
“With this policy, our Dual Language program will continue to have a positive impact in our community,” Zambrano said. “As our students pursue higher forms of education in both their native and English language, they will have more and better job opportunities in the workforce.”
PSJA Chief Academic Officer Dr. Rolando “Rudy” Treviño fully backs the enhanced Dual Language Enrichment Program.
“The passing of this Dual Language policy is historical, and it memorializes PSJA’s success with the program,” Treviño said. “It also challenges us to continue to improve the program and leverage best practices seen throughout our school district.”
Olivia Martinez is director of the Dual Language Enrichment Program. She said the enhanced program will help ensure English Learners continue to receive a bilingual/bi-literate education that allows them to maintain their identity, culture, roots, and values.
During recent years the program has expanded its offerings to include a third language for students in the program, Martinez explained. Mandarin Chinese and Arabic are two languages available to Dual Language students. Martinez said such offerings equip students with even more experiences to enrich their academic journey.
Martinez proudly announced that two PSJA ISD elementary schools were recognized as a National Association of ESEA Distinguished School, for exceptional student achievement in 2020. Chavez Elementary and Garcia Elementary, both located in Pharr in the Las Milpas area, were the only two campuses selected by the Texas Education Agency to represent Texas at the national level for exemplifying the highest level of achievement in terms of student performance for the last three years.
Martinez said both schools have a strong implementation of the Dual Language Enrichment Program and are model schools for the implementation of bi-literacy among all students.
About the PSJA ISD Dual Language Enrichment Program
First started in 1995, the PSJA Dual Language Enrichment Program’s mission is to help students develop bi-literacy skills and maintain high levels of cognitive abilities. Since its creation, over 1,000 students have graduated with Dual Language Bi-Literacy Seals on their high school diploma. This seal is given only to those students who complete the rigorous program helping them master both academic English and Spanish languages.
Each year over 15,000 elementary, middle school and high school students participate in the Program.
In addition to learning a third language (Mandarin Chinese or Arabic) at select schools, through a rigorous curriculum, all students who participate in the program are academically instructed in English and Spanish, from Pre-Kinder to 12th grade. As a result, students enhance their education by developing the ability to fluently speak, read, write, and think critically in English and Spanish, which allows them to compete successfully in a global economy.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Lourdes Flores, director of ARISE Adelante and chair of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s education working group.
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