KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Senorita Sterling Zavala is known for providing a warm welcome to students at George Washington Carver Dual Language School.
The language school is in the Kansas City Public Schools district. Research shows that students who attend dual language schools have higher overall academic performance than students who attend single language schools.
Zavala is one of many bilingual teachers at the school. There, students learn in English and Spanish all day long.
“I think it makes them feel like their identity is accepted and valued,” Zavala said. “The idea of children learning in two languages all day was something I really never heard of.”
Elizabeth Mendez, a fourth grader, wrote and recited a poem about the memories she's made at the school.
“Because I am bilingual, because I speak English, I can help my grandma translate when we go get food. Because I speak Spanish, I have new aspirations and can help people," Elizabeth's poem read.
“I remind them every day how amazing this school is,” Zavala said.
Graduating knowing two languages was something Zavala was never able to experience. Her father is an immigrant from Mexico, though he learned English growing up. She said he never taught his children Spanish.
Zavala felt it was important to learn the language once she got to college.
“When I was growing up in all-English, school it felt like sometimes they were discouraged in speaking Spanish even though that was the language they spoke at home,” she said. “To not allow a child to grow in that identity especially when that’s such a huge part of who they are it’s such a disservice to not only them but the community.”
Now fluent, switching between multiple school subjects, she admits she doesn’t always get it right.
“It’s important for us to admit when we don’t know something,” she said. “I try to be transparent with my students, like ‘I don’t know how do you know? Can you tell me?’ and I hope they would feel the same way with me.”
Zavala said she hopes students like Elizabeth will fully understand how this opportunity sets them apart.