Students and Parents Find Many Benefits Through Willow Lake Elementary’s Dual Language Immersion Program

Writer / Ryan Gabbert
Photography Provided

As the amount of Spanish speakers in the United States grows every year and the world becomes increasingly connected, more adults are finding out how useful being bilingual really is. The phrase “I wish I had paid more attention during high school Spanish” is no longer exclusive to that girls trip to Cabo.

While it is considerably harder, but not impossible, to become bilingual as an adult, children have much higher success rates.

Willow Lake Elementary School stands out in the crowd in this respect, as it facilitates a Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program that has produced tremendous results both in and out of the classroom.

Founded in 2019, the DLI program started out with just two classes and has now grown to over 250 students. Willow Lake Elementary

Beginning in kindergarten English- and Spanish-speaking students are brought together where they learn, socialize and grow as one. The instruction is primarily in Spanish at first (80 % Spanish, 20% English), with greater emphasis placed on English each year as the students progress all the way to fifth grade.

The goals of this program are for the students to become bilingual and biliterate in English and Spanish, and to create an atmosphere that encourages multiculturalism.

Originally from Columbia, Lisec Coronado is a second-grade teacher at Willow Lake and is in her third year teaching in the DLI program. Every day she sees the value that this program has, both academically and in expanding the student’s worldview.

“It’s just giving the students the opportunity to actually see the world as a global community, not just Indianapolis, Indiana, and the United States,” she says. “It’s much easier for students to understand what a global community is and how they form part of it.”

In addition to their academic coursework, the students also spend time playing games, listening to music and doing other activities that round out the immersion from a cultural perspective.

“It was just eye-opening for me, my heart, my vocation, everything, because I believe that teaching as I have done in a DLI classroom, it’s really what teaching should look like and feel like,” Coronado says. “They have to interact, they have to repeat, they have to do what others Willow Lake Elementarydo, and it doesn’t matter what language they speak at home. They help each other and it’s very social, which I love.”

The results speak for themselves. Studies show that students in a program like the DLI program perform better academically and socially than students who are monolingual. Becoming bilingual at a young age can give students additional knowledge, skills and confidence that can help them succeed later in life.

The benefits don’t stop there. Many teachers report that the parents of students in the program are more willing to engage, support and play a role in their child’s education, specifically those parents whose first language is not English.

Cristina Vasquez is a DLI coach at Willow Lake and has been with the program since its inception. She is extremely proud of the impact that the program is having on the students, their families and the community as a whole.

“They feel that their language and culture is valued, which isn’t the case in many other spheres of our society,” she says. “That has been super neat to see.”

Willow Lake continues to host many events throughout the school year, showcasing food, music, dancing and culture from around the world, always keeping the spirit of inclusivity and multiculturalism at the forefront.

With the success of the elementary school program, expansions have been planned for middle and high school. The ultimate objective is that the students could be in the program from kindergarten through high school graduation, becoming bilingual and biliterate at a professional level.Willow Lake Elementary

Current enrollment is limited to students who live in the Washington Township school district, but with similar programs popping up around the state, more opportunities will become available going forward.

The DLI program at Willow Lake Elementary shines as a testament to what can be achieved when a few determined educators step up and turn their passion into action. The lasting impact they have had on the students, community and education system will be felt in Indianapolis for decades to come.

If you would like more information on the program, visit Willow Lake’s website at or call 317-280-3701.

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