The increased need for students to be fluent in two languages has meant that dual language immersion classes expand to fill the need, starting in Kindergarten. For districts where there are a balance of children speaking mostly Spanish and English, classes usually start in Kindergarten and have equal numbers of Spanish and English speakers. Learning to be bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate is the objective.
In California, Riverside schools are expanding dual language immersion classes to more classes after a kindergarten waiting list for the program hit 96 families.
“I don’t know that we will ever meet the demand because it’s always growing,” said Michelle Mitchell, an instructional services specialist who oversees programs to help English learners in Riverside schools.
The program is adding another grade level each year at the three schools that now offer it. Riverside also plans to add it to a middle school in 2017-18 and then high school, she said. The district plans to offer dual language immersion at seven elementary schools within a few years.
All families on the Riverside waiting list now speak English, but Mitchell said she’s not worried about finding enough Spanish-speaking families, whom she said traditionally wait until summer to enroll their kindergartners.
Usually, half of the students in dual immersion classes are native Spanish speakers and half are native English speakers.
Dual immersion starts in kindergarten, when 90 percent of instruction is in Spanish and 10 percent in English. The ratio of English instruction increases at different rates in different school districts. It is typically 50 percent in each language by fourth or fifth grade. The goal is for all students to become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural.
Schools usually offer dual immersion in some classrooms but not the whole school. When a campus starts the program, it expands one grade level each year.