Esperanza Rising Inspires Bilingual – Bicultural Exchange


In March, high school and dual language fifth grade students gathered for a lively event at Birchwood Intermediate School.    Walt Whitman students from Ms. Jordan’s ESL Newcomer classes visited Ms. Menjivar’s class for a very special bilingual exchange.

Fifth graders have studied the topics of Immigration and Human Rights, focusing on how people and fictional characters overcome life-changing challenges.  After reading Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz in English and Spanish, they prepared questions in Spanish for their High School visitors, all recent immigrants striving to learn English and rigorous academic content at Walt Whitman High School.  Ms. Jordan’s high school students also prepared their own set of questions in English and used this opportunity to learn more about American elementary schools and practice their English language skills in a meaningful way.

Birchwood Dual Language students were very excited to participate in this very unique exchange, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know their high school partners.  They immediately began writing accounts of their interviews in Spanish, describing their partners as hard-working, helpful, friendly and fun.   Although they read the questions they had prepared, spontaneous conversations quickly developed and one could see the smiles as ‘partners’ found out that they have more in common than they expected.

Whitman students were impressed by the positive attitude and efforts of the Dual Language students to speak, understand, read and write in Spanish. They encouraged them to continue working hard learning in two languages.   The activity quickly turned into a friendly, informal gathering where everyone learned something new while practicing his or her second language.

Some translated quotes by WWHS students:

“I realized that, just like they make an effort to improve their Spanish, we can make an effort to improve our English … I learned from them that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.” (Tania Reyes)

“I had a great time, but I also learned a lot … I met a girl who taught me how to pronounce some words in English.” (Claudia Guerrero Reyes)

“What I liked the most is that the children are very motivated to learn another language.  I know that learning another language is difficult, but not impossible.” (Erika Cruz)

“It was a nice experience because we shared something about our lives and we could practice and speak English while they practiced their Spanish.” (Silvia Ordonez)