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Liz Ramirez on Thursday sat with her younger sister, Genesis, at Garfield Elementary School and read the book “El Chocolate De Abuelita.”

The book is about a grandmother who brings her granddaughter chocolate from Mexico and teaches the child about the cacao tree and how the seeds were once so valuable they were traded like money.

Liz is a senior at Corvallis High School who began her academic career in the dual language immersion program at Garfield. Genesis, who is in kindergarten, is now starting on the same path. Liz and several of her peers worked with the kindergarten students this year by choosing culturally relevant books and adapting them into puppet shows for the young students.

The project culminated on Thursday with all the students sharing foods represented in their books, such as empanadas, nopales (cactus), conchas sweet bread and more.

Nayelli Suarez, a 12th-grader who worked on the project with Liz, said they incorporated the names of their kindergarten partners in the book.

“It was fun to see how excited each kid got when we read their name in front of the class,” Suarez said. “It just felt rewarding.”

Amanda Filloy Sharp, a coordinator in the dual language immersion program, said she wanted the high school students to pick stories that came from Spanish-speaking countries and represented the culture. Filloy Sharp said the immersion program is not just about classroom learning but also encourages students to give back to their communities, especially their dual-language communities. She said it’s powerful for younger students to see older students who are graduating from the program.

“It’s motivating and inspiring the students to stick with it,” she said.

Filloy Sharp said it’s also makes an impact with the high school students to see how far they’ve come and what they’ve accomplished.

Kindergarten teacher Shannon Gabriel said it was motivating for her students to hear their names in the stories. It inspired them to listen intently and also provided an incentive for language acquisition. She said the high school students gave each kindergartner a handwritten copy of their book, complete with pictures, as well as the corresponding puppets. She said the young students are constantly returning to the books, wanting to reread them, and also wanting to use the puppets, which encourages storytelling.

Saùl Arevalo is a senior who adapted a book about Pelé, the Brazilian soccer player, for his kindergarten partners. He said his dual language immersion class feels like a family because of the 13 years the students have been together. It will be hard to separate after graduation, he said.

The Corvallis School District’s dual language immersion program is designed to enrich students’ development in both their first language and a second language. According to the school district, learning to read, write and speak in both languages makes it easier for English language learners to learn English while still learning the skills they need to progress to the next grade level. The goal of language immersion is for students to become proficient in a second language and develop an increased cultural awareness.

Garfield and Corvallis High School are two of the four schools in the district that provide dual language immersion.

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Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock. 

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