Dual Immersion Programs Launched in Orange County to Expand Bilingual Education

By Allison Economou

This year, the Anaheim Elementary School District will be one of the first in the county to offer language immersion programs for at least one class on each of its twenty-three campuses. Jefferson Elementary will teach English and Korean to its students, while all other schools in the district will teach English and Spanish.

The Anaheim Elementary School district will join larger school districts, including Los Angeles Unified and Riverside Unified, in expanding their dual-language options.

With the future in mind, parents and schools are interested in equipping their children with the skills they will need to one day enter an increasingly diversified community and workplace. In California, where forty-five percent of the population over the age of five speaks a language other than English in the home, bilingualism is becoming less of an advantage and more of a requirement.

Maria Carreira, the co-director of the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA has noted that “southern California is one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the United States.”

“Global California 2030,” a California Department of Education initiative that was launched last year, plans to have half of all K-12 students in the state be proficient in two or more languages by 2030. In order to reach that goal, the initiative plans to quadruple the number of dual immersion programs from about 400 in 2017 to 1,600.

Michelle Mitchell, an instructional services specialist at the Riverside Unified School District, said that the brains of students in dual-immersion programs work differently than monolingual brains. She claims that some cognitive benefits of students studying two languages include higher self-esteem, fortified perseverance and heightened propensity to tackle learning. Carreira, a Cal State Long Beach professor who teaches future bilingual teachers, added that students who have been instructed in two languages socialize better and feel more valued.

Jefferson Elementary plans to teach eighty percent of its class in Korean in first grade, reducing the usage of the foreign language by ten percent each consecutive year until fourth grade, where the class will be taught equally in both languages.

Prop. 58, which was approved by voters in 2016, effectively repealed Prop. 227, which required English learners to be taught in English immersion classrooms. As a result, teachers’ interest in bilingual education has spiked and universities have revived programs that train teachers to work in multiple languages.