Ten years ago the Ceres Unified School District introduced dual language instruction to one school and on Friday Lucas Elementary School celebrated the milestone in colorful style.
A short event included brief remarks that led up to a folk dance performance of the school’s Grupo Folkloriko Tecolotl group along with a choice of things to eat from vendors.
Lucas, a K-6 school, is now one of three dual language academies in Ceres. Caswell Elementary also became a dual language academy. Students from both schools funnel into Cesar Chavez Jr. High School, which is also dual language.
Students receive two-and-a-half hours each school day of instruction in Spanish and two-and-a-half hours in English.
“It’s very difficult but it’s also very rigorous,” said Principal Angelica Mariscal. “By the time they leave us they are fluent in both languages.”
Students typically enter the program speaking one language or another. English speakers get to learn in Spanish and Spanish speakers become fluent in English.
“They learn from each other. It’s very collaborative in nature.”
Mariscal said the program is “hugely successful.”
“We have a waiting list to get students in. It’s really difficult to get kids into the kinder through third grade.”
Dual language academies differ from other elementary schools in that there are no attendance boundaries, meaning students who live all over Ceres may enroll. In some cases parents have to drive their children to and from school since there is no bus service.
Lucas opened its doors in September with Israel Gonzalez as principal, overseeing 184 students, four kindergarten teachers and four first-grade teachers, said Mariscal. Today the campus has about 689 students.
“I’ve always wanted to be at a dual language site,” said Mariscal, who has been at Lucas two years and was previously assistant principal at Blaker Kinser Jr. High School and prior to that was learning director at Central Valley High School.
“Every year we celebrate a ton of accomplishments,” Mariscal told the crowd of parents and community members. “Some of our accomplishments this year are 34 students who are reclassifying, which is very important to all of us; they’re proficient in English language. In addition to that, we have 15 of our teachers who are ‘norm’ certified with a very rigorous program through Ceres Unified. Two of those teachers are coach certified so we’re very proud of that and very proud of everything that we have.”
Cynthia Castaneda, the mother of two students attending Lucas, said she raised her children speaking only English but is a firm believer in dual language instruction.
“I went to a bilingual school in the Bay area so I like the idea of them going to one too just because I learned how to speak, read and write (in two languages),” said Castaneda.
She said when Salvador, now in first grade, and Daisy, now in third grade, started out as kindergartners the rigors of learning a new language was “a little confusing but I feel like once they start getting used to the schedules and switching the classes they adjust really good.”
A third child of hers will be entering the program next year. Her oldest child, Delilah entered Lucas in the opening year and is now in high school.
“I feel it will benefit them especially with work. A lot of places require you to be bilingual. It’s always good to know both languages.”
Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez attended to congratulate the school for its academic excellence and wished it continued growth and success.
Representatives of state Assemblyman Juan Alanis, state Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, Congressman John Duarte attended to offer certificates of recognition.
Brenda Herbert, representing both Alanis and Duarte, told the audience that she remembered when Lucas was built in Ceres’ school building frenzy.
“It was an amazing time because we got a lot of our elementary schools at that time but this was one of the real prizes of Ceres with it being dual language,” said Herbert.
Lucas Elementary was named after long-time farmer Grant Lucas and wife and former Ceres teacher Mildred Lucas. Mildred taught third grade at Carroll Fowler Elementary School for many years. Grant served eight years on the very first Ceres Unified School District board of trustees in 1965 and was a member of the Ceres Education Foundation Board.
Both have passed away since the school opened in 2013.