GRAND JUNCTION, Colo — Dual Immersion Academy, which offers a bilingual program for kids pre-k to fifth grade, is home to a special winner this week.

School principal Monica Heptner is the latest recipient of the Rich Lopez award from the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce.

Heptner says, “I was really honored because you know sometimes we think about every day working with students and helping them academically and helping them feel their language empowers them.”

Heptner began her career at DIA in 2004 as a teacher before becoming principal in 2011.

Heptner believes kids who are able to learn and speak both Spanish and English will further enhance their skill set as they grow up.

Heptner also says, “it is a skill that helps you globally, locally, statewide. Having people who can speak in both languages and read it and write it creates a better community.”

Officials say the community has really benefited from this program, with roughly 5,000 students having participated so far.

Heptner says, “not only are we preparing students to be able to read and write in both languages and speak fluently, we also help them to understand different cultures, which helps you relate to people at a different level.”

That ties into the overall goal of the program.

Heptner added, “our goal is to have students become bilingual, biliterate, and have social-cultural competence by the end of fifth grade.”