Creating and Sustaining Successful K–8 Magnet
September 2008
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River Glen Elementary & Middle School
San Jose, Calif.


Selected Characteristics of Magnet School and Host Districta
Magnet School: River Glen Elementary & Middle School Host District: San Jose Unified School District
Year Established as Magnet 1986 Population Typeb Central City
Theme Spanish Dual Immersion Size 72 square miles
Grades K-8 MSAPc Funded Funded: FY 1987-88; 1991-97; 2001-06
Enrollment 538 students Enrollment 11,406 magnet students out of 31,032 total
Student Ethnicity 67% Hispanic
29% White
2% African-American
2% Asian
Student Ethnicity
(grades K-5)
51% Hispanic
28% White
4% African-American
13% Asian
Special Education 0% Special Education 11%
Free or Reduced-price Lunch 52% Free or Reduced-price Lunch 46%
English Language Learners 28% English Language Learners 26%

a All data self-reported by school or district for school year 2006-07.
b From National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data for the school year 2005-06,
c Magnet Schools Assistance program

At River Glen Elementary & Middle School, halls and classrooms resonate with a lively but unusual sound mix: young voices speaking both Spanish and English. Even on the playground, neither language dominates the other. Hallway posters for school events are in both Spanish and English. In a third-grade classroom where students are giving presentations about their heroes, a native-English-speaking student, dressed in full baseball uniform, speaks about Jackie Robinson in fluent Spanish, fielding questions from his classmates—also in Spanish.

The school's mission is to prepare students for a future in a global society through a two-way immersion program that produces bilingual, biliterate students who appreciate different cultures and communities. All River Glen students learn a second language without compromising their first—equal value is placed on both. The unique curriculum requires continuity through the grades, so River Glen parents are asked for a five-year commitment to the school.

Today, after celebrating 20 years as one of the district's first magnets, the school's dual immersion philosophy—instilling in all students the value of speaking more than one language and honoring each other—is increasingly popular and River Glen's waiting list is lengthy. "It's a chosen community," one teacher observes. "Everybody gravitated together out of a common vision."

Founding and Early Challenges

River Glen began in 1986 as a strand-within-a-school program to recruit white, African-American, and Asian families into a local elementary school that was over 90 percent Hispanic. Starting with just three classes-two kindergarten and one first-grade-the program gradually expanded, growing so popular that within six years it had developed into a dedicated elementary magnet school at its current facility, and within 12 years, it spanned K-8.

San Jose is diverse but ethnically segregated. When state law required the city to replace older school buildings with new earthquake-proof retrofitted facilities, local Hispanic families, fearing that replacing schools in their original locations would maintain segregation, filed a desegregation lawsuit, causing the district to rethink its enrollment process. River Glen was one of the first magnets created as a result. Nestled along the border of both a middle-class white community and a working-class Hispanic neighborhood, its new location is ideal for recruiting a mix of native English and Spanish speakers.

Implementing a Successful Program

River Glen's commitment to dual immersion is evident in every classroom. In one kindergarten class, students are actively learning at multiple centers. When a student asks the teacher in English, "Do you have a pencil?" the teacher repeats the student's question in Spanish and answers it as well, never once using English. While all activities and instruction in this classroom are in Spanish, students are encouraged to talk informally and help one another in English. In this way, all students learn formal Spanish language and conversational English.

In their first year at River Glen, students receive most instruction in Spanish and a small amount in English. Those proportions shift each subsequent year so that by the fifth grade, half the instruction is in English and half in Spanish. Instructional delivery is monolingual at all times—teachers never use translations for comprehension. And in early grades, children switch teachers for different language instruction, so the students don't even realize that their primary teacher knows how to speak English.

Students are expected to learn to read and write fluently in both languages and are required to pass rigorous standardized tests in English as well as in Spanish. River Glen's rigor and capable staff have helped students achieve at high levels on such tests and, on average, outperform the district.

"A fundamental principle of the dual immersion model," one teacher explains, "is that teachers must build on what kids already know." Teachers employ a variety of strategies to tailor their instruction to the needs of students, using facial expressions and body language to clarify a point. Student groups are linguistically mixed in River Glen's classrooms. The teacher speaks to students in one of the two languages and often uses small-group instruction in order to pull out a few children at a time for personalized reading instruction. In addition, each grade-level team has developed yearly curriculum outlines that assist with student instruction and cross-grade-level articulation.

Professional development is critical to sustaining River Glen's theme. While many staff members have had extensive backgrounds in bilingual education, they need to develop a very specific set of skills to implement a language immersion education program. In-house and preservice trainings help staff learn to team-teach, presenting the same lessons as their counterparts. Teachers must be innovative, using nonverbal forms of communication to explain challenging concepts. Each Tuesday, early dismissal of students gives staff the second half of the day to meet in grade-level teams and plan lessons.

Establishing Systems for Sustainability

While River Glen has a proven record of academic success established by early principals Rosa Molina and Cecilia Barrie, the current principal Mildred Colon-Arellano and her staff are focused on continuing to improve dual language mastery, closing the achievement gap, increasing the rigor of professional development, and meeting requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. While student subgroups are performing at the same level or exceeding their counterparts throughout the district, an achievement gap between white and Hispanic students persists. To address this, staff analyze benchmark assessments from the previous year to help identify areas of need and then make adjustments across the curriculum. Teachers assess and then revise their lesson plans to teach for student mastery.

Along with ongoing support from the district, several key community partnerships have contributed to River Glen's success. An affiliate of the California Association for Bilingual Education, 2-Way CABE, helps staff plan and implement two-way immersion programs. Through this partnership, River Glen staff members receive professional development and curriculum training and often are asked to help mentor other school leaders who want to put a similar program in place. An important resource for instructional assistance, San Jose State University (SJSU) sends its student teachers to River Glen, with many eventually joining the teaching staff. SJSU professors showcase the school as a realworld model of a successful two-way language immersion program, and in exchange provide River Glen staff with teacher resources related to the program model.

Even local businesses have helped with the program's outreach to create awareness about the benefits of dual immersion. Partnerships in the past have included Hewlett-Packard, through the district's Adopt a School program; the local public library branch, Biblioteca Latinoamerica; and Hicklebee's children's bookstore. Prior to River Glen's arrival, Hicklebee's did not carry books in Spanish. As parents kept visiting in search of these books, the store saw the demand. "Now there's a wall of Spanish books," says founding principal Molina.

Passionate about the school's dual immersion program and inclusive culture, parents are part of the school community in many meaningful ways. The middle school program, in fact, was developed chiefly out of parents' desire to extend their children's bilingual learning experience. The school's success with parents is notable, given that the two-way language immersion program asks parents to make a leap of faith, accepting that spending a lot of classroom time in kindergarten learning Spanish will lead to being literate in English down the road.

Most of River Glen's marketing and public outreach efforts took place around the school's inception-more than 20 years ago. To create a dual immersion program, the school needed more native-English-speaking students to achieve a linguistic balance in each classroom. Recruitment was one family at a time in those early years. "We had to get it right from the beginning," Molina recalls, and luckily, "the community embraced it."

The school, unlike the district as a whole, has achieved adequate yearly progress for the last six consecutive school years. Due to the success of River Glen, the district has expanded the two-way immersion model to a neighboring school and is considering plans to add two more sites.

Sustaining Success at River Glen Elementary & Middle School: Milestones


River Glen began as an experimental magnet strand within a neighborhood school. As the dual immersion theme proved to be successful, it became a dedicated elementary magnet with its own site, and eventually grew into a K-8 school. Today, River Glen hosts university students as well as district, state, and national visitors who want to learn from an established model about the dual immersion approach.


Two-way bilingual program developed as a magnet strand within the Washington Elementary School to promote voluntary integration efforts. Staff, including principal Rosa Molina, recruited from a pool of professional development trainers and interested Washington teachers.

Recruitment targeted English-speaking families to meet district integration goals as well as create classroom composition balance. All kindergarten parents are contacted about two-way immersion as an enrichment program.

Staff attend dual immersion training at summer institutes hosted by the University of California (first at Los Angeles, then at Santa Barbara).

The magnet strand at Washington begins with two kindergarten classrooms and one first-grade classroom.


Strand moves to new site, as a satellite program called Washington at River Glen.

Partnership with San Jose State University begins for training new teachers.

Program is completed with first class of fifth-graders.


River Glen becomes its own dedicated elementary school, with no ties to Washington and without other strands on-site.

Staff become partners and participants in 2-Way CABE, an affiliate of the California Association for Bilingual Education.


Title VII Academic Excellence funding provides principal Molina with a three-year position as principal on special assignment to disseminate River Glen model across the state. Cecelia Barrie becomes River Glen's second principal based on Molina's recommendation.


In response to parent dissatisfaction with off-site two-way bilingual middle school program, River Glen expands to K-8 school. Seventh grade added in the first year.


River Glen moves to its permanent location, taking the school's name to the site.


Mildred Colon-Arellano becomes River Glen's third principal after Barrie leaves to lead district's new two-way bilingual program.

Recognized as a trailblazer in bilingual education in California, founding principal Molina becomes associate superintendent of San Jose Unified School District.


River Glen recognized with a California Title I Academic Achievement Award (a program instituted under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) for closing the achievement gap.


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Last Modified: 09/28/2009