Bilingual teacher making a difference for Phoenix-area children

Audrey Conrath loves being around children, believing she can make a difference in their lives.

The 1993 graduate of Kingman High School said she is doing it today in her second year as a bilingual education teacher at Palomino Elementary School in the Paradise Valley School District.

Conrath, 24, teaches Spanish in the second grade to 29 children classified as ESL (English as a second language).

She said 72 percent of her school's student population is comprised of Hispanic children.

"I teach them in content areas like reading, language, math and social studies, all in Spanish," Conrath said.

"The children need to become literate in their first language.

"After they learn to read Spanish, literacy is transferable," she said.

"They don't need to learn to read again, just learn English."

Bilingual education taught to K-2 pupils, who make the transition to English in the third grade, is invaluable, Conrath said.

Hispanic children who try to learn English during their K-2 years often do not fully understand what is going on and many drop out of junior high school or high school later, she said.

The dropout rate is lower among those Spanish-speaking children who begin the transition to English in the third grade, Conrath said.

Conrath is not limiting her teaching responsibilities to regular school hours at Palo Elementary.

She invests one hour per day three days a week working in an intervention program.

She said she has seven first-graders who are reading below grade level.

In addition, Conrath and Kristin Schultz will team-teach a dual language class with equal numbers of Spanish-speaking and English-speaking pupils this summer.

"I don't know how many student we'll have as of yet, but it will be a pilot program at our school," Conrath said.

"We'll teach all-English one day and all-Spanish another day."

Conrath was active in cheerleading, tennis, swim team and the Spanish club during her years at KHS.

She studied Spanish under Roger Murillo, now area coordinator at Northern Arizona University-Mohave, during those four years and said he was her favorite teacher and sparked a desire in her to learn Spanish.

Her mother, Barbara Conrath, is presently a teacher at KHS North.

"I come from a long line of educators and it was probably my mother being a teacher that most influenced me to become one," Conrath said.

During 1993-97, Conrath attended the University of Northern Arizona where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education.

In the summer of 1996, she studied advanced Spanish in a camp called "El Centro Bilingue" in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Conrath is taking additional Spanish classes as she works toward gaining a bilingual endorsement on her teaching certificate.

She also plans to pursue a master's degree, probably in elementary education, Conrath said.

In her spare time, Conrath said she enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, swimming and rollerblading.

The preceding was one in a continuing series on successful graduates of Kingman High School.