Success Story

Celebrating world cultures and embracing

diversity through two languages

Collinswood Language Academy,
Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, NC

Over the last few years, Collinswood Language Academy, a K-8 magnet school in Charlotte, North Carolina that serves about 750 students, has made remarkable strides as the state’s first dual language program. This once failing school now ranks first among all kindergarten through eighth grade schools in its district for meeting federal and state annual measurable objectives. Last year, it was also designated as a Merit School of Excellence by Magnet Schools of America. 

According to current principal Nicolette Grant, a dual language program, “allows students from two different language backgrounds to receive academic instruction in two ‘target’ languages.” In this way, students learn not only from teachers, but from other students as they work together to help each other improve their non-native language abilities. 

Collinswood students come to the school from a variety of different racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and language backgrounds. The school attempts to maintain an evenly split student body between native English speakers and native Spanish speakers. Students also benefit from having excellent teachers from different countries varying from Costa Rica to Peru. This gives students the opportunity to experience many different cultures and dialects not only through their peers, but their teachers as well.

On a daily basis, Collinswood focuses on building student proficiency in both English and Spanish as well as fostering within its students a sense of appreciation for the culture of different countries in Latin America and beyond. Collinswood also actively works towards the goal of achieving academic performance at or above grade level, while encouraging their students to grow a high sense of self-esteem and positive cross cultural attitudes. 

Beginning in kindergarten, 85 percent of the students’ day is taught in Spanish, while 15 percent is taught in English. In grades one through eight, 50 percent of a student’s day is taught in Spanish and 50 percent of the day is taught in English. Classes in math, social studies, Spanish/language arts, physical education, and higher-level language courses are taught in Spanish, while science, English/language arts, and art and music are taught in English. Kindergarten teacher Jacqueline Saavedra states, “The cognitive power that students build comes from learning to transfer information and concepts from one language to the next.” 

Through the dual language approach, the school has been able to produce higher standardized test scores, and improve the listening, memory, and problem solving skills of its students. In addition, Collinswood students develop greater cognitive abilities in creativity and higher order thinking. Ultimately, enhancing these 21st century skills will lead to greater career opportunities. These students also learn to appreciate cultures that are different from their own. 

There has been a great deal of research conducted about dual-language schools, including Collinswood. Wayne P. Thomas and Virginia P. Collier conducted research that involved a multiyear analysis of dual-language programs. Their research found that nearly 70 percent of students tested in the dual-language programs in North Carolina scored at grade level or higher on the state’s math tests, while in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district this number was 46 percent, and at the state level it was 42 percent. Likewise in the area of reading, 65 percent of dual-language students scored at or above grade level, while the numbers for the district and the state respectively were 46 percent and 44 percent. In many instances, students at Collinwood outperform their non-dual language peers by 20 points in both English and Math. 

Dual-language schools have also made a tremendous impact on the academic performance of African American students, who have shown a strong interest in dual language programs. At Collinswood during the 2012-2013 academic year 50 percent of African American students passed both the English and Math tests, whereas in the district, only 18 percent of African Americans passed both, and in the state, only 14 percent passed English and Math. 

Collinswood has set an example for other schools in the state. The North Carolina State Board of Education has committed to a number of ideas that will promote dual-language programs within the next five years. One of these ideas is expanding the dual-language program to span all years, from kindergarten until twelfth grade. Collinswood has also been recognized internationally. In 2005, the Spanish government took notice and sent a representative from the International Spanish Academy (ISA) to visit the school. It has since been invited to join the ISA network because of the quality of its program, making it the only ISA member in North Carolina. 

To learn more about Collinswood, please watch this webinar sponsored by the National Institute for Magnet School Leadership featuring the school’s principal, Nicolette Grant. 

Posted March 2015