The Oyster Elementary School is the only bilingual public school in District of Columbia. It is one of the very few in our nation that have dual-language instruction for all students.
Its pupils consistently score above the norms for their grade level in tests, and it has a waiting list of more than 300 children from all over the city. It has managed to avoid district-wide budget cuts, and has become the district’s showpiece school for dignitaries to visit.
Classes are taught in English and Spanish in an effort to make students’ culturally literate in both languages. Each of Oyster’s classrooms, from kindergarten through the sixth grade, is taught by two teachers—one English-speaking and one Spanish-speaking. Students learn to respond in either language, depending on which teacher is presenting the lesson.
This teaching format may not be characterized as either “Spanish enrichment” or English-as-a-second-language, Oyster’s proponents are quick to point out. “This is the closest thing there is to a well-developed European bilingual school”, says Marcello Fernandez, director of the District of Columbia school’s bilingual division. (Education Week March 2, 1983: pp. 7 & 18)
Many children live in homes where more than one language is spoken, and such households are models for Oyster’s method of instruction.
In contrast to other bilingual programs in America, the Oyster School gives “equal weight” to learning both English and Spanish. This means that English-speaking students must develop the same fluency in Spanish that Hispanic students develop in English.
For example, beginning in the first grade, social studies is taught only in English, while science is taught only in Spanish. Reading, however, is taught separately, by ethnic group, and mathematics is taught in both languages.
Some parents admit that they worry that their children’s English suffers because they must learn to read and write simultaneously in two languages. But most seem to agree that being fluent in two languages is worth the risk.