Local education experts discussed how effective bilingual instruction plans help raise GPAs and reduce dropout rates during a recent forum presented by United Way of Santa Barbara County.

The United for Literacy Education Forum, held Nov. 13 at the Santa Barbara County Education Office auditorium, focused on how effective, bilingual instruction plans enable students to use reading, writing, listening and speaking for a range of purposes.

Panelists discussed best practices, measurable outcomes, local opportunities and challenges.

Panelist Jin Sook Lee, professor in the Department of Education at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, said research supports how dual/multi-language education produces bi/multilingual and bi/multiliterate individuals, leading to cognitive, psychological and academic benefits.

These include greater attention spans and increased aptitude to make executive decisions. Recent research demonstrates such aptitude leads to health benefits that can significantly delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and other dementia–related illnesses.

Bilingual instruction also fosters faster, more efficient English language acquisition, along with stronger professional and educational aspirations.

Panelist Carlos Pagán, director of literacy and language support with the Santa Barbara County Education Office, detailed the bilingual education resources in Santa Barbara County.

Currently, bilingual education is offered at Adelante Charter School in Santa Barbara, as well as five school districts: Carpinteria, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Solvang, and Santa Maria-Bonita.

“These benefits are staggering and emphasize the importance strong, multilingual education plans play in the future of our students,” said Steve Ortiz, president/CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County.

“We’re thankful to everyone who participated in this year’s United for Literacy Education Forum and for their ongoing work,” he said.

To recognize and honor high school seniors who demonstrate proficiency in English and a second language, the state of California awards students with the Seal of Biliteracy. California awarded more than 55,000 Seals of Biliteracy in 2018.

In Santa Barbara County, 511 students have received a Seal of Biliteracy. Since California’s first implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy, 30 other states and the District of Columbia have also adapted and implemented their own state Seal of Biliteracy programs.

“Expert panelists provided our community the opportunity to learn about the benefits of dual language immersion programs and hear about the growing number of participating schools throughout Santa Barbara County,” said Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools.

“This forum highlighted, once again, our community’s commitment to education and partnerships across the county,” said Salcido, who moderated the event.

Panelists also included David Bautista, executive director and principal of Adelante Charter School; and Jamie Persoon, principal of Canalino Elementary School.

— Angel Pacheco for United Way of Santa Barbara County.