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LA Unified to add more dual language immersion programs

Yana Gracile | July 9, 2014

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LAUSD dual immersion program

Mural handcrafted by Broadway Elementary students

The LA Unified school district plans to expand its dual language immersion program next fall, adding Spanish language programs to three elementary schools in the district.

According to LAUSD officials, that brings the total number of dual language programs offered by the district to 57, including 43 in Spanish, 10 in Korean, and four in Mandarin.

Hilda Maldonado, the director of the multi-lingual department at LAUSD told LA School Report that the new programs are a result of the schools’ and communities desire for students with different backgrounds to study and gain fluency in both English and Spanish.

“The schools solicit to begin a program,” Maldonado said. “All we do is guide them and provide professional guidance building so they can be successful.”

The three new programs have been approved at Madison, Nightingale and Hooper elementary schools.

Dual language immersion programs are still few and far between in California but are growing in popularity; according to the California Department of Education there were 313 programs in California in 2011, mostly in Spanish. They offer a curriculum in two languages to the general student population –  not just to English language learners, but to English-only students as well.

That has allowed dual immersion to side-step the controversy surrounding bilingual education, an approach embraced by California in the 1990’s, which separated students with limited English from the main student population so they could be taught math, science and social studies in their ‘home’ language. By 1998, bilingual education was being blamed for an achievement gap in the immigrant population and was banned by Proposition 227. As a result, English language learners are required to receive academic instruction in English and then ‘reclassified’ as quickly as possible to join the rest of the student population.

Since the shut-down of bilingual education, dual immersion programs have emerged on a limited basis, only if parents help get a waiver from Prop 227.

Maldonado says in order for the programs to be sustainable, the school, community and parents must work together. There must be an implementation plan in place and certain guidelines must be met such as 50 percent of students in the class must be English speakers while the other 50 must be Spanish speakers.

She also says that the school must be prepared with available teachers, preferably ones who are already on site, who are willing to teach the program.

But while finding Spanish and English speaking teachers is usually not an issue, it does become problematic for other dual immersion programs such as Mandarin.

Even though the district works with Human Resources to recruit dual speaking teachers, a qualified teacher who speaks both languages, “certainly is difficult to find and there is a challenge,” she said. “But we are persistent in our approach.”

Despite the challenges, the Mandarin dual immersion program has seen great results.

For example, City Terrace Elementary, a school located in a low-income neighborhood in East Los Angeles, began offering a Mandarin dual immersion program in 2007 and has seen 90 percent of students scoring advanced or proficient in math and English arts on their statewide tests.

City Terrace’s Principal Elaine Fujiu credits these high scores to the Mandarin dual immersion program and she’s not alone in her belief that becoming proficient in two languages can improves academic success.

The success of dual immersion programs has brought the idea of bilingual education back in the spotlight. State Senator Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens says that students who are bilingual are better prepared to compete in a global economy.

Lara plans to bring the issue to the voters in November 2016 with a ballot initiative to repeal Proposition 227.

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