UTRGV hosts McAllen ISD’s fifth-grade dual-language cohort graduation

  Thursday, May 24, 2018

By Amanda Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Stemming from a partnership to create bilingual, bicultural and biliterate students, more than 40 McAllen ISD fifth-graders, all wearing graduation stoles with their elementary schools’ names on them, were cheered on by family as they were celebrated for being the first cohort of Dual-Language Program graduates.

UTRGV’s Center for Bilingual Studies, in partnership with PUEDE (Parents United for Excellent Dual Education) and UTRGV’s B3 Institute, hosted the ceremony Tuesday, May 22, on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. The hope is that many of the children will return to UTRGV in eight years as incoming students.

The students hailed from Andrew Jackson Elementary and Blanca E. Sanchez Elementary, and for most, it was their first visit to a university campus. Currently, McAllen ISD has 19 elementary schools and seven of those house a Dual-Language Program. The program trains students to read, write and speak in English and Spanish.

The celebration was also attended by UTRGV and McAllen ISD representatives, as well Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) ISD Dual-Language students.

The ceremony opened with Dr. Particia Alvarez McHatton, UTRGV’s executive vice president for Academic Affairs, Student Success and P-16 Integration, who expressed the importance of speaking two languages for the university.

“One of UTRGV’s strategic goals is to become a bilingual, bicultural and biliterate university. Working with our local districts to increase Dual-Language programs throughout our region is one way we can bring this goal to fruition and help ensure that our students enter our university able to participate in courses delivered in Spanish or English, or in bilingual courses,” she said.

The occasion was a milestone for McAllen ISD, which announced that these fifth-graders will have the opportunity to continue in the Dual-Language Program at Fossum Middle School. Until now, PSJA was the only school district in the Valley to offer a Dual-Language education beyond elementary school.

During the ceremony, the students took to the stage to talk about how excited they were to have completed the program.

“I’m very proud to be bilingual because I can take the best of both worlds and make mine better. I’m proud to be able to approach the world from two different sides and points of view,” said Cecilia Prieto, a fifth-grade student from Andrew Jackson Elementary.

Marissa Moya, a Blanca E. Sanchez Elementary student, echoed Prieto’s sentiments.

“I’m proud to be bilingual because I can communicate socially and academically with more people, especially here on the border of the U.S. and Mexico,” Moya said.

Several parents also shared with the audience how valuable it is for their children to know both languages.

The Dual-Language Program at McAllen ISD already has proven to have had an impact: Dr. Silvia Ibarra, McAllen ISD assistant superintendent for instruction, said these two classes had some of the highest STAAR scores in the district.

McAllen ISD’s Bilingual, ESL and Foreign Languages Director Angie Martinez said the students will be graduating with a Spanish I credit for high school and will start Spanish II in sixth grade. 


Currently, nine school districts in the region offer Dual-Language programs: PSJA, McAllen, La Joya, Harlingen, Mission, Rio Grande City, Hidalgo, Donna and Laredo. PSJA currently is the only school district that goes beyond fifth grade.

Dr. Joy Esquierdo, director of the UTRGV Center for Bilingual Studies, said she anticipates creating more partnerships with schools to focus on how valuable Dual-Language programs are.

“The university’s voice is so loud in our community. And if we say, ‘We are acknowledging these successes and celebrating them with you,’ I’m hoping it will send a very powerful message,” she said.

Dr. Mariana Alessandri, RGV PUEDE leader and UTRGV associate professor of philosophy, said the organization is working to get the program into more school districts.

“Nine districts have Dual-Language, so we have nine chapters for PUEDE and one for Edinburg because the parents are so fired up to get Edinburg to be Dual-Language,” she said.

Alessandri said her hope for the future is that every bilingual program turns into a Dual-Language Program.

“Every kindergarten, high school and college student should appreciate the value of speaking two languages, and be proud of their heritage and their culture,” she said.

To learn more, contact the Center for Bilingual Studies at (956) 665-3213; the B3 Institute at (956) 882-7829); or RGV PUEDE at mariana.alessandri@utrgv.edu.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.