Cameron optimistic about full magnet status

Since Cameron Dual Language Magnet became a full magnet campus about six months ago, teachers and administrators said the atmosphere has become more cohesive.
Principal Jacob Bargas said the school offers classes in English and Spanish to its 505 prekindergarten through fifth grade students. French is offered as an enrichment class once a week, third-grade teacher Diana Tavarez said.
Bargas said dual language is in effect now campus wide. There are no English-only students, except fifth-graders in their last year at Cameron.
Because of the change, Bargas said he lost about 10 teachers and 150 students.
“But those students weren’t participating in the dual language program,” he said. Those students likely wound up at the nearby neighborhood school, which was Zavala Magnet Elementary.
Last year’s fourth graders were grandfathered in.
“We didn’t want them to finish their last year at a different school,” Bargas said. “We allowed them to stay here and they would get English only. They are the last group to be that way.”
Bargas said the campus has always been successful in its dual language program, but converting to a full magnet has allowed the school to improve on what it has built. The campus has 32 teachers who have to have a bilingual or English as a second language certification to teach there, he added.
He said there has been a small uptick in scores on local tests.
Campus Curriculum Facilitator Christina Salinas said the data she has seen that teachers have been collecting from assessments looks good. Salinas added that Cameron is out of improvement required status, so not being full magnet didn’t impact its test scores.
“I’m excited to see what the end of the year STAAR scores will look like,” Bargas said. “ … We’re working hard and we’re very diligent about helping kids be as successful as they can. … The students work so hard; the teachers are working hard. I have such a great staff. It really is attributed to them.”
He added that it takes five to seven years for a student to learn a second language.
“Over time,” Bargas said, “we should see that second language acquisition improve and grow. Some students … pick it up within a year, or two, (or) three years.”
Sometimes it takes longer.
“We want them to become biliterate and bilingual in English and Spanish,” Bargas added.
He noted that having experienced staff also is a benefit. Bargas said teamwork is a cornerstone of the school’s success.
“We’re not only there to support the students academically, but also linguistically and trying to balance the two of them is difficult sometimes. … That consistency helps instruction. It helps planning; it helps students; it helps in every way, shape or form to have that experienced teacher in that classroom,” Bargas said.
Tavarez and fifth-grade science teacher Teri McLeod said the campus is now like a community where everybody – teachers and students – are in it together.
Like Tavarez and McLeod, Campus Curriculum Facilitator Christina Salinas said she thinks the full magnet is a great idea.
“I think it has allowed the teachers to have a balanced classroom to be able to implement the language program effectively,” Salinas said.
Gerardo Vazquez Jr., 10, and Forrest Harlow, 11, both in fifth grade, said they enjoy the school’s dual language program and are pleased it has gone full magnet.
Vazquez said he speaks mostly Spanish at home and learned English easily.
“I think it’s perfect,” Vazquez said. “When you grow up and you go middle school, then to high school if you go to random jobs you get paid more because you know English and Spanish. It’s an advantage over life and over everything.”
Harlow said the dual language program is kind of difficult in the short term, but in the long run it will help students prosper because more businesses will accept someone who can speak “more than one of the common languages in the western half of the world.”
“With Texas lines so close to the border between the United States and so many Mexican immigrants coming in, it’s definitely a good idea so you can actually talk to the immigrants and not accidently say a bad word. … I’ve done that before,” Harlow added.
Third-graders Gavin Hinojos, and Briana Ortega, both 9, said they enjoy the curriculum because they get to learn about difference cultures.
Between the three – English, Spanish and French, Hinojos said his favorite language was French.
“It’s better foods. It’s shorter words and you don’t have to write a lot,” he said.
Although it frustrates her, Ortega said she likes French, as well because it’s something she’s never known.