While many details remain to be ironed out, the lessons in English and Spanish will be taught at the district’s 20th school, a yet-to-be-named elementary campus set to open in August. Construction on the school near the intersection of Carmen Lane and Western Avenue is nearly complete.
Before the trustees’ vote, Superintendent Phil Alvarado recommended that the board move forward with the program’s implementation. He called it “in the best interests of our students, the best interest in this community, and an opportunity we can build on.”
The board’s unanimous vote to start a dual-language immersion program is the culmination of a grassroots effort that began in 2011 and included the formation of a task force.
“They have persisted in a very positive, and I’ll say passionate — with a capital P — manner, “ Alvarado added.
Dual-language learning calls for lessons to be taught in both English and another language, Spanish, in this case. The goal is for students to become fluent in both languages.
“This is an enrichment, an opportunity for learning,” Alvarado said.
Questions arose about whether the program could be sustained, but Alvarado doesn’t view that as a worry.
“I’m confident it will (have sustainability),” he said. “If you build a program that is exciting, engaging and built around the community, kids are not going to want to leave. They’re going to want to stay. The parents are going to want to stay.”
Santa Maria-Bonita does not have a large number of students who move outside the district, he said. Instead, the student population seems to simply move within the city.
“They move from neighborhood to neighborhood, but they do not leave the city limits for the most part,” he said.
It’s uncertain if the program will be ready to implement for the school’s first year in August, according to Olivia Bolanos, the district’s director of curriculum.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, especially at the new school that we’re opening,” she said. “What better way to open a new school?”
The plan calls for starting in kindergarten for the first year and then adding another dual-language class each subsequent year so the district’s new program expands as students advance.
“It gives us some time to continue and massage the program and perfect it,” Bolanos said.
Also undecided is whether to employ a 50-50 formula or a 90-10 formula. In the 50-50 formula, lessons would be taught an equal amount of time in English and Spanish.
Under the 90-10 formula, the lessons would be 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English in the first year. The number would change as the students advance to another grade being 80 percent Spanish and 20 percent English, until reaching 50-50 by the time the students reach the fifth or sixth grades.
Alvarado didn’t make a recommendation on which option to support, adding that the task force likely will return with more information about the benefits of each.
Parents would decide whether to enroll their children in the program and commit to participating. Orientation sessions for parents will be scheduled in both English and Spanish.
District officials anticipate a large waiting list for those eager to get into the program. They likened it to parents enrolling their children in a program to learn how to play a musical instrument.
Before the board’s vote, Carlos Pagan, director of literacy and language for the Santa Barbara County Education Office, gave a presentation about the dual-language learning.
He said immersion students perform as well as or better than nonimmersion students on standardized tests in English.
The long-term benefit is that immersion students are better prepared for the global job market in which 21st-century skills are an asset, Pagan added.
Former-student-turned-teacher Summer Arguijo urged the board to adopt dual-immersion language learning.
She recalled the language divide that separated her from Spanish-speaking classmates as a student enrolled in the district.
“If I had been part of a dual-immersion program as a child, the possibilities would be limitless,” she said.