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LEEP Dual Language Academies, a new charter school, is preparing to open in August 2018 on the west side of San Antonio. At an information session on March 13 at Guerra Library, school leaders discussed the LEEP educational model and shared new information about the school’s location and enrollment process.
Location and Enrollment
The first LEEP Dual Language Academies campus, LEEP Dos Caminos, will be located on the west side of San Antonio at 8038 W. Military Dr., San Antonio, TX 78227 (map). The building was erected in 2015, as noted in this earlier post about the groundbreaking for Carpe Diem Westwood, a charter school has been struggling and is now closing. The building will likely need modification; it was designed for middle school and high school students, and has large open-plan areas meant for a school with a blended learning model. There is open space around the building to allow for expansion.
LEEP Dos Caminos is now enrolling for grades K–1 on Monday, March 19 on the school’s website, leepacademies.org, and by phone at 917-819-LEEP (5337). Enrollment is open to students in living in Bexar and surrounding counties. The school will start with six sections of kindergarten and six sections of first grade; with 22 students in each section, that’s a goal of 264 students at opening. LEEP will enroll kindergarten and first grade students up to capacity. The open enrollment period will be from March 19 through April 2. If more students enroll than the number of seats available, then a lottery will be held on or about April 4. Siblings will be given priority. After open enrollment, applications will be accepted on a first-come, first served basis.
The campus will add one grade level every year until it reaches 8th grade. The leaders plan to add pre-K, but not until after the 2018–19 school year. At the information session, parents asked about additional campuses, but the founders said they would wait to expand until the LEEP Dos Caminos campus was well established.
Leadership Team and Inspiration
At the LEEP information session, the leadership team was represented by Roberto Gutierrez, Founder and President, and Michael Regnier, Senior Fellow for School Design.
Chief Academic Officer Dr. Verenice Gutiérrez (no relation to Roberto) represented LEEP at the South Side School Choice Fair, but did not attend the March 13 meeting.
The information session was conducted in both Spanish and English. Parents asked questions in both languages; Gutierrez would translate the questions and give answers in both languages.
The meeting more than just a way to share information about LEEP Academies—it was also a cultural affirmation. Parents and grandparents around the room each got a turn to share their motivation for seeking dual language education. Here are some of the reasons they mentioned:
- Multilingual families want their children to be able to speak directly with Spanish-speaking relatives.
- Grandparents shared memories of being discouraged from speaking Spanish in school, and having lingering feelings of shyness and hesitation about speaking Spanish. They want their grandchildren to speak Spanish confidently and with pride.
- Children who learn to speak and understand both English and Spanish at a high level will be able to use both languages in their careers. There is a difference between conversational and academic language skills.
- Parents who grew up in Europe with a multi-lingual education (e.g., German and English) want the same flexibility for their children.
- Young children who have been attending a dual-language preschool (such as Spanish Grove Academy) will be able to continue learning in both languages.
Parents who enroll their children in dual language programs often cite the cognitive benefits.
LEEP Dual Language School Model
The LEEP Dual Language Academies model combines dual language with a classical, liberal arts education. In kindergarten and first grade, it will follow a 90:10 language immersion model—the students will speak Spanish 90 percent of the time and English 10 percent of the time. The ratio of Spanish to English will change as students get older. By 8th grade, the ratio will be 50:50. Public school options are limited for continuing dual language education into middle school.
Regnier noted that starting with Spanish is beneficial for students because it is a more regular language than English. Students will gain confidence with the more consistent and predictable spellings in Spanish before moving on to tackle English phonograms and irregular verbs.
Parents who speak predominantly English are sometimes concerned about how they will be able to support their students with homework in Spanish. Gutierrez assured parents that the school will provide support for homework. He encouraged parents that the best thing they can do to support learning is to read to their children in any language, including English.
LEEP Dual Language Academies will offer a classical liberal arts education reminiscent of what Gutierrez experienced growing up in Catholic schools in San Antonio. “We want every child to be able to stand up and tell their own story in two languages, to stand up and say who you are,” said Gutierrez.
The LEEP curriculum promises to be rich in content, based on Core Knowledge. However, the early stages of Core Knowledge history focus on the English colonization of North America; LEEP plans to supplement with information about Native Americans and about Spanish colonization of North America. The new curriculum is under development, and will be ready by the fall to fulfill the goals of content-rich curriculum and cultural responsiveness. Gutierrez says it’s important for children to understand their background and their people.
Regnier spoke of a “pedagogy of cariño” (caring), meaning that teachers will be firm but also warm. The teachers need to act as the adults and set limits, but they also will help students develop high self-esteem. A culture of respecto (respect) will lead students to hold their teachers in high regard, as heroes in their lives, like their parents and grandparents, who serve as role models of behavior. The student-teacher relationship will be built on confianza (trust), not an authoritarian relationship.
Hiring is underway, and they are seeking teachers who are native Spanish speakers and who are also bilingual in English. The teachers will be well-versed in the science of dual language education so they stay committed to the model. There will be team teaching across each grade level to maintain a consistent high quality of instruction. Teachers will watch themselves on film and get critiques to continue improving their technique.
The language of the school will be Spanish; for example, staff meetings will be held in Spanish. That will send a strong message that Spanish is important. By contrast, having meetings in English would send a secret message that English is really the power language.
The student-teacher ratio will be 22:1 or less. There will be teaching assistants in kindergarten, plus specials teachers on campus. As mentioned above, the school will open with up to 264 students, but the number of students in each grade will get smaller with attrition, so the leaders expect the school at PK–8 will serve about 600 students.
As a public school, LEEP must administer standardized tests to students and be held accountable for test scores. Regnier assured parents that the school will not focus on the test. “The students will not notice the testing; there will be no pep rallies, no stress. The tests should be an afterthought,” said Regnier.
Students will wear uniforms at school. There will be a school supply fee to help cover the cost of supplies, but the school will make arrangements with families who can’t afford the fee. Students will get 25 minutes of recess time and 30 minutes of lunch time every day, as well as PE class. Regnier added that there will “wiggle breaks” throughout the day. “We’re going to build in fun, in Spanish, of course.”
Parents who are looking for more dual language education options in San Antonio should feel optimistic about LEEP Dual Language Academies opening in San Antonio. LEEP has an experienced leadership team and strong backing from the ResponsiveEd charter school network. In addition to offering education in both Spanish and English, LEEP will provide content-rich liberal arts curriculum that is also culturally aware and will affirm students’ identities. Over the next few months, the LEEP Dual Language Academies team will be busy getting ready for the school year, preparing their west side campus, enrolling students, and hiring teachers. Let’s hope they get off to a good start.
- “LEEP Dual Language Academies has a new home. Tenemos un nuevo hogar.” LEEP Dual Language Academies news release, March 18, 2018