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LAUSD launches its first early ed dual-language immersion programs

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | August 17, 2017

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Kids at a Read Conmigo Biliteracy event last year. (Courtesy: Read Conmigo)

Dual-language immersion education, battered by decades of struggle in California, has bounced back in a big way in Los Angeles. This year, LA Unified is not only expanding these programs, but for the first time it will offer 10 early education dual-immersion pilot programs: eight in Spanish and two in Korean.

And the popularity of the programs is boosting enrollment at some schools — key for a district that has experienced years of declining enrollment. Mountain View Elementary is one of the schools where the programs are attracting students.

“Mountain View was looking at a dropping enrollment, so we rolled out a plan for implementing a dual-language Armenian program. Last year was the first year we implemented the program, and the school was able to open with two full kindergarten classes, and it was the first time that the school was able to do that it in the last couple of years,” said Hilda Maldonado, executive director of the district’s Multilingual/Multicultural Education Department.

“The families in our community really value their children keeping their language. Parents that were thinking of taking them to other schools in other districts or private local schools, when they saw that we’re implementing the program, they basically came to us,” she said.

The early education programs will be available in both early transitional kindergarten (ETK) and transitional kindergarten (TK). The English-Spanish programs are opening at Queen Anne, Eastman, Nevada, Grand View, and Montara elementary schools and Santana Arts Academy, as well as at the Early Education Center at Gates Elementary and the California State Preschool at Vista Del Valle Academy.

The English-Korean programs will be offered at the ETK level at Cahuenga and Denker Avenue Elementary schools.

These will add to the 16 new programs in elementary and middle schools, bringing to 101 the total number of dual-immersion programs in LA Unified. A list of programs available this school year across the district can be found here.

The dual-language immersion model is a bilingual program where students are taught half the time in English and half the time in a second language, in a classroom where some students are fluent English speakers and others are English learners. The goal is for students to become fully bilingual and bi-literate in both languages, learning at a gradual pace.

Research indicates that dual-language immersion is the most effective model to educate students who have limited English skills and closes the achievement gaps between English learners and their peers over the long term.

“Some parents were afraid that their kids will not learn English properly if they’re in a bilingual class, but more and more they are realizing that their kids can even do better academically than other kids not in the program,” said Mayra Salguero, a third-grade teacher at Edmondson Elementary in Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, who was recognized last year as Bilingual Teacher of the Year by the Read Conmigo biliteracy program.

In November, Californians approved Proposition 58, repealing most of Proposition 227 that 20 years ago mandated that all schools provide instruction in English only, unless parents chose otherwise. At that time, many parents whose primary language was not English believed that a dual-language program would only delay their children’s proficiency in English.

The state has more than 1.4 million students classified as English learners, of which most speak Spanish as their first language. About 5 percent of California public schools offer dual-language programs.

Proposition 58 now allows the growth of bilingual and multilingual programs in schools across the state and brings more flexibility for schools to implement those programs.

“One of the changes that is major for the district that we’re implementing is the fact that parents no longer have to fill out the waiver form for the children to be in a dual-language program. Also, we’re waiting for the state to give us the full regulations of Prop. 58, and we expect that to happen in the spring,”  Maldonado said.

Dual-language classes were created to support English learners, but now they are serving more native English speakers, as parents see the value of being bilingual in a globalized world. Some question if English learners should have priority in these programs.

“There is definitely a higher interest in some parts of the city from parents (of English-speaking households) who are becoming more aware of the value of having bilingual children,” Maldonado said.

“For Spanish-speaking parents, whose child is already required to learn English, keeping their home language is important. And English-speaking parents send their children to learn a second language because they know it is going to help them develop cognitive and decision-making skills. I think we have both in the district, depending on what part of the city.”

Mayra Azanza’s daughter Karen has been in a Spanish dual-immersion program in Culver City Unified since kindergarten. She is now entering fourth-grade at El Marino Language School.

“The best thing that my kids can inherit from me is my language and my culture, and the opportunity to communicate with my family and other people from other parts of the world,” said Azanza, who immigrated from Mexico.

“Having Karen attend the program was a choice, and that itself is a commitment of the type of education you want for your children. Parents, teachers, and even the students themselves value that, and the result created a very nurturing learning environment. I will definitely enroll my youngest son also in a bilingual program,” she said.

California’s teacher shortage raises concerns about whether there will be enough bilingual teachers for the bilingual and multilingual programs to continue expanding.

A new report released last month by Californians Together shows that many school districts across the state are currently facing a growing bilingual teacher shortage, and that in the near term, there is a pool of at least 7,000 bilingual teachers who are well positioned to begin to address this shortage, who need to be supported with professional development.

Maldonado said the district recognizes that need and it’s working to secure more bilingual teachers.

“We will need more teachers than what we already have, over time as we implement more new programs because teachers retire or leave. We do have them, but we probably need some more,” she said.

“We do have a good number of bilingual teachers who have not been using their bilingual credentials in a bilingual program, and we know we can activate them if we need to. They would still need to receive some additional induction on bilingual education, recent research, and latest pedagogy.”

The district also has partnerships with several schools of education at local universities to fill that need.

“We also have natural talent here in the city of LA, before going to other countries. I know that we have to pull up the bilingual talent that can consider going into this profession,” Maldonado said.

Registration for any of the bilingual programs in LA Unified still needs to be done at schools sites, but that will change for next school year when families will be able to apply to any school and or program through the district’s new unified enrollment system.

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