PHARR, TEXAS — In the entryway of Graciela Garcia Elementary, visitors are greeted twice. Once by a huge multi-colored sign that says “Welcome” and again by one that reads “Bienvenidos.”

Another sign cheerfully declares, “Today is English day!”

All that is made explicit because Garcia Elementary is a dual-language school. Just a couple days after Thanksgiving break 2021, its teachers aren’t just trying to get students caught up on multiplication tables or grammar. They’re making up for months lost to the pandemic when students could have been making bigger strides with their second language, English, which they will need when they’re older and expected to take all their classes in.

This is an issue that touches nearly every student at Garcia Elementary, an International Baccalaureate school where 77 percent of the kids are what Principal Sandra Garcia calls “emergent bilinguals.” While some students at the school are learning Spanish for the first time, the term is used to refer to students whose primary language is other than English—and who are in the process of acquiring it.

In the community around the school, nestled in a rural area of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, Garcia says, “A lot are recent immigrants, and a lot speak Spanish at home.” The campus is a 15-minute drive from an international bridge that connects Pharr to Reynosa, its sister city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

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