Focus School: American School of Guatemala

Submitted by: Samantha Olson-Wyman
Date: September 2021
Photos courtesy of American School of Guatemala

Situated in Guatemala City, the American School of Guatemala (CAG) serves more than 1,600 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students representing 24 nationalities. CAG’s bilingual academic program is designed to support the development of both Spanish and English program languages amongst its students. CAG faculty, both local and international, are tasked with facilitating robust, language rich instruction in either of these program languages. Core and applied content areas are taught in either, or at times in both, Spanish and English, depending on the subject and the grade. This dynamic bilingual approach creates a unique experience for CAG students that is distinct from English as an additional or home language programs. The diverse linguistic backgrounds of both students and faculty are highly valued. All students are considered multilingual learners and all teachers are considered language teachers that support rich content development through their specified program language.

CAG has a rich history of bilingual and bicultural education, as students receive both a Guatemalan and a United States high school diploma upon graduation. As the 75-year-old institution has evolved and grown, keeping pace with what is best for student growth, development, and learning – especially in the realm of bilingual and multilingualism – has been essential. WIDA naturally surfaced as a viable and comprehensive framework through which to view students’ linguistic development. WIDA’s various resource offerings in both English and Spanish were a key reason CAG decided to join their global network. The WIDA Español resources especially, and a highly informative conversation with Samuel Aguirre, director of WIDA Español, confirmed our desire and decision to become a part of this network. As a school, we know that making sure to develop programming and support in both English and Spanish is a critical aspect of CAG’s service to its students.

teacher wearing a mask taking a selfie in a school with other masked teachers posing in the background

WIDA has had a positive and evolving impact on teaching and learning at CAG. CAG’s Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning department has worked to support teaching staff across various roles (eg. classroom teachers, department chairs, instructional coaches) in exploring and growing their understanding of WIDA resources. As CAG is divided into three distinct yet unified sections (Lower School, Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 5; Middle School, Grade 6 - Grade 8; and High School, Grade 9 - Grade 12), it was clear that the rollout of WIDA resources needed to be strategically aligned and begin in the Lower School.

Recently, a group of 10 faculty members completed the WIDA Virtual Institute as a cohort, led by two instructional leaders at CAG who are tasked with articulating and supporting language acquisition within and across program languages at the school. Attending faculty represented Kindergarten, 1st grade, and Lower School Learning Specialists in an effort to begin a staged rollout process, led by teachers and grounded in CAG’s mission and vision, for the WIDA resources.

The cohort process was a wonderful way to participate in the WIDA Virtual Institute. It was not only well-supported through WIDA but also helped facilitate rich discussion and planning. This occurred throughout, both within and across program languages with a resulting initial action plan created by each team. Some initial goals centered on better incorporation of the social and instructional language standard in the first Kindergarten reading unit, building capacity around WIDA resources in the context of a 1st grade writing unit, and collaboratively creating language goals based on content goals in the context of a co-teaching relationship between a learning support and classroom teacher.

Doing all of this in the midst of pandemic-induced learning has been no easy task. However, it has been clear for a number of years that having a framework, tools, and specific language to talk about language development, is a key need at CAG. Though plates are full all around, the excitement for this work was palpable at all levels. In reflecting on their experience with the WIDA Virtual Institute, two participants commented:

"We finally have SOMETHING that will help us look at language development!"

"It’s great that Spanish language development is considered too. Everything always focuses on English alone."

CAG is eager to see how the action plans develop over the course of this upcoming school year, which also include the use of the WIDA MODEL assessment. Considering who CAG serves and the fact that all students are multilingual language learners, the initial use of MODEL will function more like a representative sample (one-fifth of Kindergarten and 1st grade students will take the assessment). This will allow CAG to become more familiar with the assessment, how it can be used, and also provide preliminary data to guide the further implementation of WIDA resources. We are excited to see where this takes us and feel confident that our student learning outcomes will undoubtedly improve in both language and content areas!

two students in classroom reading

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