TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Two local school districts started new programs this year to combine Spanish- and English-dominant speakers in the same elementary school classrooms.

Del Valle ISD and Manor ISD both launched their two-way dual-language classes this school year with pilot programs at the elementary school level.

In two-way classes, students explore the same lessons, but teachers instruct in both English and Spanish to teach all kids both languages. The classes differ from one-way programs, in English language learners are taught in both English and in their native language.

In Del Valle, teachers are starting the two-way program younger than most districts, implementing the curriculum into pre-K classrooms at Hillcrest Elementary to start.

“Our goal is to create that proficiency in their first language while they’re acquiring that second language,” said Del Valle ISD interim superintendent Dr. Annette Tielle Villerot.

The program is especially important in Del Valle, she added, because 85% of students are Hispanic and 40% are English language learners. The district hopes the classes go a long way toward developing one community instead of two.

Two-way dual-language classes are becoming increasingly common throughout Central Texas as students who started a two-way language program as kids age into new grade levels and schools. KXAN checked with every large local district to see if they offered similar programs. Most have at least some opportunities for two-way classes, and you can see what your district provides below.

Austin ISD, which started providing classes in the 2010-11 school year, now offers two-way dual-language classes in 22 elementary schools and in three languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, and Mandarin.

The district is also exploring adding an Arabic option for students because it has become the most common language in students’ homes besides English.

Eighty students enrolled in Manor ISD’s pilot program at three elementary school campuses this year.

“We have a large number of students who are English language learners. We also have a large group of students who didn’t qualify for bilingual services, but who wanted to be in bilingual classrooms,” a Manor ISD spokesman wrote in an email.

At least three other districts started offering the classes within the last five years, and others, including Manor and Del Valle plan to expand in the coming years.

Michelle Cardenas teaches one of the classes in Del Valle after advocating for the program for years. In a lot of ways, she said, her room is just like a typical pre-K class, “teaching the kids how to take out the materials, correctly put it back, how to use the materials, holding paintbrushes, how to play with Play-Doh and not eat it.”

Half of her 4-year-old students speak mostly Spanish, the other half mostly English, and she pairs students with a classmate who speaks primarily the other language. “We’re trying to encourage them to talk to each other.”

Her classroom is filled with signs and notes in both English and Spanish, and they plan to alternate the dominant instruction language each day. Tuesday, the second day of the new school year in Del Valle ISD, she said, “they’re picking it up. It’s awesome to watch them and they’re eager to learn.”

Researchers say kids who start to learn a second language at a young age are much more likely to become fluent and speak in a native accent. A study last year out of MIT suggests students who start learning a language after age 10 do not have as good a chance of becoming proficient as those who start before.

Hillcrest Elementary principal Jennifer Eberly said the goal is to foster a bi-literate student body within the district, “meaning that they’re reading, speaking, writing in English and in Spanish.”

She hopes students teach each other as much as they learn from instructors, “not only learning the languages from each other, but their different cultures, their different backgrounds. That’s one thing that our teachers highly promote.”

What kind of bilingual education does your district provide?

  • Austin ISD: The district started offering two-way dual-language programs in the 2010-11 school year. It now offers classes at 22 elementary schools, starting in pre-K at some and in kindergarten in others, and in three languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, and Mandarin. Administrators are exploring adding an Arabic program, as well.
  • Round Rock ISD: Students can learn in one-way and two-way dual language classes at 12 elementary school campuses. The district started offering bilingual classes in 2007.
  • Leander ISD: Students can take both two-way and one-way dual-language classes, depending on the school and grade level. The district has not responded to KXAN’s questions about any plans to expand the programs.
  • Pflugerville ISD: The district offers two-way dual-language programs at four schools and one-way classes at seven others. The district has not responded to questions about whether they plan to expand the program.
  • Hays CISD: Two elementary school campuses offer two-way dual language programs starting in kindergarten. The district is looking at adding more classes: “Expansion will depend on interest in the program,” a spokesman said.
  • Del Valle ISD: The district’s pilot program kicked off this week with the start of school. Pre-K students at Hillcrest Elementary are the first to experience it, and administrators hope to expand it in coming years to every elementary school campus and eventually middle schools.
  • Georgetown ISD: Starting in the 2016-17 school year, this district offers two-way dual-language classes at four campuses starting in kindergarten. This year, the program grew to include 3rd grade at three of the campuses, as the first students to take the classes have progressed. That means the district will offer classes through 5th grade two years from now.
  • Bastrop ISD: The district has not responded to questions about whether its bilingual programs also include two-way classes for English-speaking student who want to learn another language.
  • Manor ISD: Three elementary school campuses started offering two-way classes as a pilot program this year. The district hopes to expand to more schools as it gathers feedback from parents, teachers and administrators about how the program is working.
  • Lake Travis ISD: The district does not offer two-way dual-language classes. It provides one-way classes starting in pre-K and does not have plans to expand its bilingual offerings.
  • Eanes ISD: Students at four elementary campuses are eligible for a Spanish immersion program, which differs from a two-way dual language program. Instead of combining Spanish- and English-dominant speakers, Eanes ISD’s program teaches students half the day in English and half in Spanish to develop both languages.
  • San Marcos CISD: Five campuses offer two-way dual-language classes to students starting in pre-K. The district began its program in the 2017-18 school year and plans to grow the program along with its students up to 5th grade in the coming years.