Puente de Hozhó Bilingual Magnet School students learn in a unique environment that stresses the power of two languages.
For students and staff at Puente de Hozhó Bilingual Magnet School, each day is as simple as ABC—Academics, Bilingualism, and Culture.
Puente de Hozhó is a K-5 Title I School in the Flagstaff Unified School District. According to Principal Dawn Trubakoff, roughly 400 students experience a unique learning environment while being surrounded by a culturally diverse population of high-achieving students. The student pool is 52 percent Hispanic, 26 percent American Indian, 19 percent Caucasian, and three percent other.
“We have a 53 percent poverty rate and a high level of English-Language-Learner students,” says Trubakoff, who has been the school principal since 2004. “At Puente de Hozhó, bilingual education is embedded in all that we do. We make intentional and deliberate decisions for instruction and resources based on our student performance and data.”
In a time when teachers find it hard enough to entrench technology, test prep, and creativity amidst all other elements of education, Puente de Hozhó manages to successfully embed culture and language in day-to-day activities.
“Due to the uniqueness of our philosophy and instructional practices, we are able to build on the students’ native language knowledge and experiences while simultaneously scaffolding content in English. This allows us to teach students both academic and language without the loss of content and standards,” Trubakoff explains. “The mission of the school is to provide every student the ‘Power of Two,’ which is the ability to speak, read, write, and think in both English and another language. Students who have the ‘Power of Two’ are better prepared to meet the challenges of a global society.”
Wondering how it’s possible? To best serve students, Puente de Hozhó offers two distinct programs.
“The Spanish-English Program is a 50-50 dual-language program where native-Spanish speakers are mixed with native-English speakers. They learn from each other and content is taught equally in both languages. The Navajo-English Program is an immersion program because all of our Navajo students speak English, so they are immersed in the Navajo language and culture. In kindergarten, 90 percent of their day is taught in Navajo. Then in first grade, 80 percent of their day is in Navajo. In second grade, 70 percent of their day is in Navajo … it decreases by 10 percent each year,” she says.
Upon learning about Puente de Hozhó, Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, decided she needed to see the school for herself.
“Most remarkable to me is that every student learns two languages: English, Navajo and/or Spanish. I think it keeps the Navajo language alive while providing all students an opportunity to become proficient in two languages,” explains the longtime educator. “When I visited this school, it was not only a celebration of learning, but a celebration of the different cultures that help make Arizona a unique and beautiful state. Not only was I was impressed with the quality of instruction, but also with the engagement of the teachers and students with one another.”
James Jones teaches fourth and fifth grade in Puente de Hozhó’s Navajo Program. Although he’s new to the school, the educator claims the community support and camaraderie prepares students for success. He attributes the unmatched school unity to a great sense of trust and communication.
“I think that as long as parents are supporting their kids’ education and helping teachers, their children will leave the school feeling confident. Also, as long as parents practice communicating with their children in their native language, having that duel language will help then out in the future,” Jones says. “Just recently, a student was quoted in an article and she credited her parents, grandparents, and Puente de Hozhó for the instruction of language.”
Wondering how students can remain fluent as they complete their elementary education and matriculate into middle school? Fortunately, Mount Elden Middle School hosts the Puente de Hozhó Language Academy. Students interested in continuing their bilingualism are encouraged to apply for the honors academy, which allows participants to ‘experience the language and culture through music, dance, literature, art, plays, and more.’
Building capacity for bilingualism isn’t easy, but it’s feasible when support and dedication is garnered by community stakeholders. Wiebke believes the Flagstaff school should be used as an example for all.
“Puente de Hozhó is a model for us all. Learning a second language allows a person to connect with the world and fosters a sense of humanity. Most importantly, it provides children an opportunity to learn about other cultures, customs, and traditions,” she says.
Can’t fathom what a bilingual school atmosphere is like? Watch this short video to see it for yourself.