Fifty Years Later, Bilingual Program at Coral Way K-8 Still Thrives

Jun 4, 2013

Fifty years ago one school in Miami set out to teach all of its students in both English and Spanish. It was the first public school in the country to try this and the program was only supposed to last a few years.

But that school has been at the vanguard of bilingual education for half-a-century. It's called dual immersion.

Robert Linquanti is a researcher who has studied bilingual education for almost 25 years. He calls the dual immersion system at Coral Way "a Ferrari model."

Linquanti says that for a bilingual program to thrive, you've got to have teachers who are strong academically, as well as linguistically.

Cristina Vazquez came to Coral Way as a student, after her family arrived from Cuba. And she's been teaching here for 17 years.

"Everybody from the custodians to the people in the cafeteria to the faculty and the staff, everybody who has something to do with our school, has to believe in the program, we all have to be on the same page", Vazquez said.

And so does the community. If they didn't believe in the value of teaching all kids in multiple languages, this never would have worked.

When the program started in 1963, many of the Cuban students had come to Miami alone. Their parents sent them here as part of Operation Peter Pan - to get them away from the Communist government. Many Greek and Jewish families in the Coral Way neighborhood took them in, and thought it would be good for their own kids to learn another language.

The program was supposed to help the Cuban kids hold on to their language and history while Cubans waited for the Castro regime to fall. As more and more Cubans arrived and prospered in Miami, Spanish became a language with status.

Now at Coral Way, being bilingual is just a fact of life. Genesis Vanegas-Calvo, a fifth grader at Coral Way, said, "There are some things that you can't quite grasp in English or some things that you can't quite grasp in Spanish...Whatever you don't understand in English, they can teach it to you in Spanish and vice versa."