The popularity of dual-language classes in Ventura County schools continues to grow, with three schools starting programs this fall.
Ventura Unified School District started a two-way immersion kindergarten class at Montalvo School about a decade ago. Five more dual-language programs have since come online at elementary and middle schools in Camarillo, Rio, Hueneme and Ventura.
In the fall, three more campuses are expected to be added to the list. Classes are set to start at Tierra Vista in the Ocean View School District; Juan Soria, a new campus in the Oxnard School District, and at Will Rogers in Ventura, which will start the district’s first schoolwide program.
“I think parents throughout the state recognize the value of having their kids be bilingual and biliterate. It’s a huge advantage,” said Associate Superintendent Roger Rice of the Ventura County Office of Education.
The county office plans to start regular meetings in the fall, bringing educators in the dual-language programs together to share best practices, Rice said.
All the local programs are offered in Spanish and English, and in most cases, classes are split evenly between native English and native Spanish speakers. The schools differ, however, in some aspects, including the amount of time students in the programs spend learning in each language.
“We’re really excited,” said Ocean View Assistant Superintendent Marcia Turner. Tierra Vista will have two dual-immersion kindergarten classes this fall, Turner said. Classes will have about one-third Spanish-speakers, one-third English-speakers and one-third bilingual students.
May attract students, funding
District and school officials had planned to reach out to the community with an information campaign to fill the available spots. But after announcing the move at the spring open house, families signed up, filling every seat.
In Ventura, the first class of two-way immersion students at Montalvo will move to high school this fall, having finished immersion classes at Anacapa Middle School. Many already have met college entrance requirements for foreign language studies.
“We knew there was plenty of interest to have a second program,” said Jennifer Robles, a bilingual education director for Ventura schools. This year, about 20 families were on a waiting list at Montalvo School.
Those students were offered a spot at Will Rogers, which will have dual-immersion in all four of its kindergarten classes this August.
Each year, as students move up a class, a grade level will be added to the program.
With the state’s fiscal crisis prompting layoffs and other cuts at local districts, officials said some might question why schools would start new programs. Dual-immersion doesn’t cost the district more money to run than current programs, Robles said, and it benefits students.
Turner said Ocean View officials think it might eventually bring more funding to the district by attracting more students.
Teaching students in Spanish began to disappear in California public schools after voters approved Proposition 227 in 1998, which banned bilingual education unless parents of English learners sign a yearly waiver consenting to the class.
Families see benefit
In two-way or dual-immersion programs, English learners and speakers learn two languages, unlike some bilingual programs in which native Spanish speakers learn in Spanish only until they master English.
Families want their kids to learn a second language while keeping their first language, Robles said, and the dual-immersion programs allow that to happen.
Carlos Avila’s daughter Penelope, 5, will start kindergarten at Will Rogers in August.
“I want her to know that it’s OK to speak a different language,” Avila said. His parents were fluent in English and Spanish, but he learned Spanish only by taking classes in school.
He took part in a student exchange program in Spain. There, he said, children are encouraged to learn multiple languages, unlike the culture he has experienced in the United States.
Because of his family’s Spanish-speaking history, Avila loves that his daughter will learn Spanish and English. But, he added, “I would love to see (programs) not just in Spanish but other languages, too.”