Habla usted español? Paulo Ortega and Jasmine Melgar do. Muy bien, in fact.

The sixth-graders are the first graduates of the dual immersion program at Rorimer Elementary in La Puente. Since kindergarten, the 12-year-olds have been taught in both Spanish and English.

"My family speaks Spanish on my dad's side, so he wanted me to learn it," Paulo explained. "Now I want to take French or Italian in high school."

His classmate agreed, noting that her grandparents also speak Spanish. "I wanted to become bilingual and learn more about the Spanish culture," Jasmine said.

The two have become fluent in both English and Spanish, learning to read and write in the two languages. Other districts, such as Walnut Valley and

Viviana, Irma and Paulo Ortega at Rorimer Elementary School in La Puente. Irma was named Parent of the Year by the California Association of Bilingual Education. (Staff Photo by Watchara Phomincinda.)
Hacienda La Puente, have been adding Mandarin classes.

"I thought it important that we keep the Spanish language here because it's part of our heritage," Principal Liz Leon said.

The Rorimer administrator was recently named the 2012 outstanding educator by the Los Angeles County Bilingual Directors Association.

Leon herself is bilingual, having been raised in both languages. She has worked hard to support the Spanish curriculum at the Rowland Unified school.

"Rorimer is a little gem with its dual immersion program," the proud principal said. "But I don't think a lot of people know about it."

Leon said the parents have been very supportive, with 147 graduating from this year's parent institute. She pointed

to work done by Paulo's mother, Irma, who is president of the PTA.

Ortega recently traveled to Sacramento, where she was named parent of the year by CABE, the California Association for Bilingual Education.

"Irma Ortega is an unwavering advocate of bilingual education and tireless volunteer in the Rowland Unified School District for more than eight years, as her children have participated in both bilingual and dual language programs," CABE notes on its website. "She has been

Rorimer Principal Liz Leon was honored as the Outstanding Administrator of the Year by the Los Angeles County Bilingual Directors Association.
instrumental in increasing the Spanish and English materials for the library and classroom use."

Leon pointed out the school just spent $5,000 on new books in Spanish for the library.

Ortega roves the La Puente campus translating newsletters, programming the marquee or fundraising at the front of the school. She also volunteers in her children's classrooms.

"I'm proud of Paulo for finishing the program. It's been very good for him," she said. "Now my daughter Viviana is a fourth-grader in the dual immersion program."

Leon said kindergartners are immersed in the Spanish language, spending 80 percent of the day in the language. This percentage drops 10 percent every year, until the teaching is 50-50 by the fourth grade.

"Some students already speak Spanish at home, so they're able to help the English speakers," the administrator explained.

She said the 5-year-olds quickly pick up the new language. English speakers like Adam Castillo admit kindergarten was hard at first.

"But my classmates would help me out and I really liked it by first grade," the 9-year-old said. "And it comes in handy when I talk to my grandmother."

Classmate Emily Ruiz likes the dual immersion class so much she's also studying American sign language and wants to take French in high school.

"I think being bilingual will allow me to help more people, I want to become a doctor," the fourth-grader said.

Ana Tecuanhuehue, 9, came into the program from another perspective. She only spoke Spanish when she started.

"I was a little nervous, but I could help my classmates with the Spanish and they helped me with my English," Ana said.

Her teacher Elizabeth Espinosa-London said Ana's English has improved greatly. The Rorimer instructor was named national bilingual teacher of the year in 2005 by the National Association of Bilingual Educators.

The enthusiastic teacher grew up in the community, graduating from Nogales High. While attending college, she studied at the University of Barcelona.