DIA: The first fully bilingual school in Salt Lake


¿Habla Español? No? Then you may be one of the many young Hispanics in Salt Lake City who has either forgotten their Spanish or never learned it. This was the motivation for establishing the Dual Immersion Academy, the first fully Spanish-English bilingual school in Utah.

Patricia Quijano Dark, the one of the proud founders of DIA, said she was shocked to see how quickly and easily her daughters Kathryn, 5, and Elizabeth, 7, forgot their Spanish after only a few months of attending a local public school. Dark, 41, who speaks four different languages — Spanish, English, French and Italian, said that being able to speak more than one language comes naturally to her and she could not imagine her daughters not being able to speak Spanish, their first language.

Dark believes that being bilingual is a talent that most people want to possess and those who possess this talent should preserve it. However, after looking around at the local public schools for her daughters, she found that some children were not able to communicate in their native language because everyone else spoke English. “The other schools had no diversity, no color, no stories,” Dark said. She did not see the opportunities she wanted her daughters to experience in other public schools so she created one of her own. “I thought it would be easier to open up a school. It wasn’t,” she admitted.

Dark and the school administrators did not take into account the many different cultures and socioeconomic differences and they were unprepared to handle some of the situations that arose. “Opening a school is like building an airplane in the air,” she said.

Families were coming to the staff and faculty about personal issues at home for assistance they could not provide. Dark recalls having to deal with child services a number of times. This was not the school’s purpose. However, the school administrators did not want to completely ignore these people who came to them for help so they hired a social worker as the assistant director of the school to handle these situations.

DIA also has been a target of discrimination. Dark said that she has received many statements and responses about why they should not build this school. One person in particular wrote, “Why would people want to learn Spanish when this is an English speaking country.” Dark was bewildered. She could not understand why there was so much anger and why people were so opposed to the idea of a bilingual school so much.

Despite some of the criticism DIA has encountered, Dark said there is no discouragement. In fact, there are plans to expand the school in the future.

DIA opened in September 2007 and is located at 1155 S. Glendale Drive in Salt Lake City. It has 350 students currently enrolled this year, in kindergarten through sixth grade. However, Dark said the school will add grades 7 and 8 by 2009. Sixty percent of the students attending DIA are of Hispanic descent. Every class and every subject is taught in Spanish and in English. The textbooks that are provided are printed in both English and Spanish. Each grade has two classrooms, one for teachers who speak only Spanish to the students and another for teachers who speak only English to the students. Dark said it is easier for children to learning a second language, because their minds are much more able to adapt to language development. She also said that when a child is bilingual at a young age it is 70 percent more likely that they will go to college.

One setback that Dark has been working toward resolving: adding a cafeteria to the school. Earlier this year the students ate inside a large tent that was being used as a cafeteria. However, one of the walls to the tent was blown down due to a recent snowstorm, leaving the students no other choice but to eat in their classrooms. Since lunchtime is only 30 minutes long and the teachers have to supervise the children, this leaves them with no time to prepare for the afternoon classes. DIA is appealing to the public for funding.

Nonetheless, DIA has had many accomplishments since it opened. “It’s the most successful thing I’ve done,” Dark said.

Although she believes that education is an important aspect, it was not always her focus. In addition to DIA, she has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has worked in England, Argentina, and the U.S. She is also the first woman to be hired as the executive director of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Dark said rather than focusing on the business end of things, Dark will focus on integration.

She wants to help those who wish to start a business by introducing them to UHCC. She has formed monthly workshops so that people may converse with the owners of larger corporations. Dark said that her journalism background has definitely helped her to teach the small-business owners about networking opportunities and finding ways to improve their trade.

With all this on Dark’s plate she still finds time to dedicate to her family and to DIA. She said it is a matter of balancing everything that you care for in your life. Dark believes that if you start something you cannot give up on it and if you truly care about it you will make time for it.

Dual Immersion Academy succeeds despite setbacks, bigotry


Some people see unmet needs in their communities, wonder why, hope that somebody will do something, then forget about it in the rush of daily life. Other people, like freelance journalist Patricia Dark, see these same unmet needs and realize they are the “somebody” that everybody else is hoping for.

“If something doesn’t exist and there is a need you can see, or if you don’t find what you need, you create it,” Dark said in a recent interview.

It was that determined mindset that led to the opening last year of the Dual Immersion Academy, Salt Lake City’s first public charter school at which both Spanish and English speaking students are placed in classes together and spend their days learning with each other, and from each other, in both languages.

When Dark came to the United States with her family three years ago, her Argentine-born daughters, Elizabeth and Kathryn, were 4 years old and 2 years old, respectively, and spoke only Spanish. Within a couple of years, Dark said, she noticed they were speaking only English and had actually begun to forget their native Spanish.

“I didn’t know you could lose a language,” she said. “It amazes me how few people in America speak a second language. It also amazes me how many new arrivals to the country don’t realize the need to speak English.”

As Dark and her family settled in Salt Lake City, she also noticed a troubling lack of visibility when it came to the different local non-white populations, populations with proud histories and rich traditions to contribute.

“There was no diversity, no color, no culture here,” she said. “No stories.”

She said she was familiar with the dual immersion concept of teaching and recognized how that model could work to address both of these problems. Within months she had recruited a group of local mothers and filed the necessary state paperwork to launch a charter school.

The academy, located at 1155 South Glendale Drive in Salt Lake City, opened its doors in September 2007. Roughly half of the 350 students come from Spanish speaking homes and half come from English speaking homes. All books and learning materials are bilingual.

One day the students do everything in Spanish and the next day they do everything in English. The result, Dark said, is students who are “not only bilingual, but also bi-literate.” She said studies show that students from these types of schools are 70 percent more likely to go to college.

“The kids use more of their brains,” she said. “They are like zombies the first week. It’s a lot of work to do everything in two languages.”

It is also a lot of work, as Dark said she quickly discovered, to open and run a first-of-its-kind charter school. Several problems arose that she had not foreseen, and most of the ones she had been anticipating turned out to be worse than expected.

“Opening a school is like building an airplane in the air,” she said. “I had no idea how difficult it would be.”

The school ran out of funding before the cafeteria could be completed, and the outdoor tent being used as a temporary facility blew apart in a recent storm. The students now eat lunch in the classrooms, which are carpeted. Combine kids, food and carpet and you get a mess, Dark said, and teachers have had to relinquish their much-needed preparation time in order to supervise.

Dark also has to contend with ignorance and bigotry on a daily basis, and said she has been startled by the intensity of it. She has received frightening and angry calls demanding to know why she is giving “illegal aliens” a free education, or wondering how she could dare to teach Spanish in an English-speaking country.

Dark, 41, was born in New York and raised in a bilingual household. Both of her parents worked at the United Nations – her father as an Argentine diplomat and her mother as a clerk. She attended college at Columbia University, majoring in international politics. During her junior year, she said, a serendipitous mix-up over an internship assignment in England resulted in both a career and a husband.

Instead of working in Parliament as planned, she was given a job at a London publication where current Salt Lake City Weekly writer Stephen Dark was working as the business editor. When the internship ended, she had a marriage that she described as an adventure and a career writing for newspapers and magazines that would take her to three different continents.

Dark moved with her family from Buenos Aires to Salt Lake City three years ago after the collapse of the Argentine economy. When she arrived, she took a position with Mundo Hispano, a regional Spanish language newspaper. She said she learned a great deal about the local Hispanic community while reporting for the newspaper and recognized many things that could be done to help community business owners.

She got involved with the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and, last year, was named its executive director, becoming the first woman to serve in that post. Since taking the helm, she has worked to increase small-business membership and has developed a series of chamber-sponsored workshops on topics ranging from taxes to marketing.

“So much of the knowledge necessary to be successful as a business owner is practical details that can’t be taught in a classroom,” Dark said. “But there was really nowhere locally to learn these things.”

Dark also saw a need for networking opportunities and started hosting a series of events at the chamber. At one of these, she said, a local man with a small cleaning service met a vice president at Wells Fargo Bank. That man now has 500 employees and a long-term contract to clean the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Salt Lake.

However, Dark said she considers the Dual Immersion Academy her greatest achievement – and her biggest headache. She said she still needs a great deal of financial help to make it completely what she envisions. At the moment, the school can’t even provide bus service to the students, which hinders recruitment efforts.

She is, at least, encouraged by the support she gets from Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who took time during the Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Aug. 2007 to attend the school’s grand opening. And she knows that, despite all of the problems, she is doing exactly what she set out to do.

“The important thing is that the kids are learning,” she said. “And we are achieving diversity.”


Dual Immersion Academy triunfa a pesar de contratiempos y fanatismo


Algunas personas reconocen que hay cierta necesidad en sus comunidades, se preguntan porque existe, y esperan que alguien haga algo al respecto. Después siguen con su vida cotidiana y lo olvidan. Otras personas, como la periodista independiente Patricia Dark se dan cuenta de estas necesidades y ven que ellos son el “alguien” que los demás están esperando.

Recientemente un una entrevista Dark dijo: “Te puedes dar cuenta que hay algo que necesitas pero no existe, entonces si no encuentras eso que necesitas, lo construyes.”

Esa mentalidad fue lo que llevo el abrir la escuela Dual Immersion academy cual abrió el ano pasado. La primera escuela publica donde ambos estudiantes latinos y norte americanos toman parte en clases y aprenden de uno al otro, tanto como en ingles como español.

Dark se mudo con su familia desde la Argentina a los Estados Unidos hace tres años. Sus hijas Elizabeth 4 años y Kathryn de 2, hablaban español. Pero en un par de anos Dark se dio cuenta que sus hijas hablaban solo ingles y se les estaba olvidando su lenguaje natal.

“No sabia que podrías perder un lenguaje,” dijo Dark. “Me asombra como pocas personas en América hablan un segundo idioma, y también el hecho do como aquellos que acaban de llegar no se dan cuenta de la necesidad de hablar el Ingles.”

“Aquí no había diversidad, o color o cultura. No hay historias.”

Ella estaba familiarizada con el concepto de combinación en el sector educativo, y reconoció como este modelo podría ayudar en resolver estos problemas. En unos meses ella recluto a madres en la comunidad y llenaron los papeles requeridos por el estado para empezar una escuela charter.

Esta academia esta localizada en 11 south Glendale Drive en Salt Lake City. Abrió sus puertas en Septiembre 2007. Aproximadamente la mitad de los 350 estudiantes vienen de hogares donde se habla español. Y la otra mitad en donde se habla ingles. Todos los libros y materiales son bilingües

Un día los estudiantes hacen todo en español y el otro día lo hacen en ingles. Dark dice que los estudiantes “no solo son bilingües, pero también leen y escriben en ambos idiomas.” También menciona que hay estadistas que dicen que los estudiantes cuales van a este tipos de escuela tienen 70 por ciento mas en posibilidad de ir a una Universidad.

La Sra. Dark dice que “los niños usan mas su cerebro. Son como zombis en la primera semana. Es mucho trabajo hacer todo en dos lenguajes”

También se dio cuenta que es mucho trabajo abrir y manejar una escuela que es la primera de su tipo. Hubo muchos problemas que Dark no había previsto, y aquellos cuales anticipo fueron peor de lo que ella esperaba.

“Abrir una escuela es como construir un avión en el aire. No tenia idea que tan difícil podría ser.”

Los fondos de la escuela se agotaron antes de que la cafetería pudiera ser terminada. Y una carpa cual eras usada temporalmente como salón fue destruida después de una tormenta. Los estudiantes ahora comen su almuerzo en los salones, cuales tienen alfombra. “Combina a niños, comida y alfombra y tienes un salón sucio,” dijo Dark. Y los maestros tienen que supervisar a los niños cual quita el tiempo para poder prepararse para sus clases.

A parte de eso Dark se enfrento contra ignorancia y fanatismo. Recibía llamadas donde personas demandaban saber porque les daba educacion gratis a ilegales, o porque enseñaba español en un país donde se habla ingles.

Dark de 41 anos nació en Nueva York y creció en un hogar bilingüe. Sus padres trabajaban para la Naciones Unidas — su papa como un diplomata Argentino, y su mama como vendedora. Ella fue a la Universidad de Columbia, donde se recibió en política internacional. Durante su penúltimo ano escolar mientras hacia un servicio de interno en Inglaterra resulto en conseguir carrera y marido.

En lugar de trabajar en Parlamento como ella planeaba, le dieron un trabajo en un periódico en Londres donde Stephen Dark que ahora escribe para el periódico local Salt Lake City Weekly, estaba trabajando como editor. Cuando su trabajo como interno termino, Dark estaba en un matrimonio cual ella describe como una aventura, y con una carrera escribiendo para periódicos y revistas que la llevaron por tres continentes.

Dark se mudo de la Argentina a Salt Lake City hace tres años cuando callo la economía de dicho país. Aquí, empezó a trabajar para Mundo Hispano. Un periódico regional en español, ella aprendió bastante acerca de la comunidad latina y mientras reportaba para el periódico reconoció que muchas cosas se podrian hacer para ayudar a los dueños de negocios en la comunidad latina.

Se involucro en el Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Y el ano pasado fue nombrada director ejecutivo, convirtiéndose en la primera mujer en servir en dicho puesto. Desde que tomo el mando, a trabajado en incrementar el numero de negocios locales y a desarrollado series de talleres que hablan de asuntos como la mercadotecnia.

“Hay mucho conocimiento que es necesario para tener éxito como dueña/ño de tu propio negocio. Son cosas que no se aprenden en la escuela. Y no había lugares donde aprender estas cosas.”

Dark también vio la necesidad en crear una red de oportunidades en la comunidad hispana. Organizo eventos en el comercio hispano donde latinos interactuan unos con los otros. Dark cuenta que en uno de estos eventos un hombre que tiene su servicio de limpieza conoció al vicepresidente del banco Wells Fargo. Ese hombre ahora tiene 500 empleados y un contrato de largo plazo para limpiar edificios de Wells Fargo en el centro en Salt Lake City.

A pesar de todo, Dark considera a Dual Immersion Academy su logro mas grande tanto como un gran dolor de cabeza. Todavía se necesita gran ayuda financiera para ver terminada su visión. Por el momento la escuela todavía no puede proveer servicio de autobús para los alumnos cual hiere los esfuerzos en reclutar mas estudiantes.

Algo que le da animo a Dark es el apoyo del Gobernador Jon Huntsman Jr., quien a tomado tiempo durante el desastre de la mina Crandal Canyon el año pasado para atender la apertura de la escuela. Y ella sabe que a pesar de todo los problemas que a tenido ella esta haciendo exactamente lo que se propuso.

“Lo importante es que los niños aprendan y que alcancemos diversidad.”


%d bloggers like this: