Dual Language Immersion Programs Could Get Big Boost

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By Dr. César Morales, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools

The ability to speak more than one language is an invaluable skill that can open doors both personally and professionally throughout a student’s lifetime. There are schools throughout Ventura County that do an amazing job teaching this skill using “Dual Language Immersion” programs or DLI. Some of the students in these programs are native English speakers, and others are still learning English. They all receive instruction in both English and Spanish. Students end up becoming proficient in both languages, and studies show they outperform their peers who have not participated in DLI.

The demand for DLI is growing so rapidly that many schools have had to create waiting lists as they work to grow capacity. The drive to expand DLI in California could get a big boost from Senate Bill 952, proposed legislation now under consideration at the State Capitol. Introduced by local State Senator Monique Limón, this law would provide grants to schools that want to start or expand their DLI programs.

California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, recently came to Oxnard to see an example of DLI in action. He visited Juan Lagunas Soria Elementary School in the Oxnard School District, which is a leader in implementing successful DLI programs. I was honored to be in the classroom with Superintendent Thurmond, Senator Limón, and Oxnard School District Superintendent Dr. Karling Aguilera-Fort as DLI students in Kirsten Barajas’s sixth-grade class gave some incredible presentations.
At a podium in front of the class, they spoke eloquently in English and Spanish about the ways being bilingual has enriched their lives. For some, English was their first language, and for others, it was Spanish. But they now speak fluently in both languages. They shared how being bilingual allows them to communicate with family and friends who only speak one language. And they recognized how being able to speak, read and write in both English and Spanish will help them in their future careers.

We are fortunate to have two wonderful organizations partnering closely with the education community to expand DLI. Californians Together, led by Executive Director Martha Hernandez, does incredible work to enhance educational opportunities for students learning English throughout the state. The California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) promotes biliteracy, multicultural competency, and educational equity for all students. Dr. Marlene Batista, who is on the CABE board and works at the Oxnard School District, has been instrumental in advancing their efforts in Ventura County. I’m excited that several local school districts that don’t already have DLI programs are actively working to add them.

The beauty of DLI is not only that it lets English learners become proficient in our nation’s primary language, but it also gives native English speakers all of the academic, cultural and social benefits of being bilingual. For these reasons, I am proud to support Senate Bill 952 and will continue to be an advocate for expanding DLI programs in Ventura County and throughout our state.

This column appeared in the Ventura County Star on April 17, 2022