Dual-language immersion comes to westside SB school
The Santa Barbara Unified School District selected McKinley Elementary School to become a dual-language immersion campus by the end of 2027.
Some community members are questioning the district’s choice.
Roseanne Crawford, an advocate for neighborhood schools, is worried about families in McKinley’s enrollment area who may not want to participate.
Incoming kindergarten students can enroll in their neighborhood’s school or transfer to McKinley for dual-language immersion. Students already within McKinley’s boundaries get first priority, and they may also transfer out.
The district sent a survey to community members in January and February 2020 to see what residents thought about the possibility of adding a dual-language immersion school on Santa Barbara’s westside.
Of the 769 responses, 81% had a high or very high level of support for the program.
Almost three-fourths of parents said they had high or very high interest in sending their student to a dual-language elementary school.
Just 38 people answered negatively to the idea, and they were mainly concerned that students should learn English first to perform well on exams.
The program starts in kindergarten, with 90% of the instruction in Spanish. Gradually, students build to learning 50% in Spanish in fifth grade.
Most studies see long-term achievement in dual-language immersion, showing the bilingual students exceeding the test scores of their monolingual peers in junior high.
The district describes the process as “going slow to go fast,” meaning slowly building the language will help students get ahead in their teens.
“The students are carrying a double cognitive and linguistic load, which is going to slow them down a little bit, but imagine that that load is going to lighten up when they’re able to do more of that transfer from one language to another,” Maria Larios-Horton, executive director of diversity, equity and family engagement, told the News-Press. “So then they’re just gonna skyrocket after that.”
But not everyone is sold on the concept.
Skeptics want a quicker comprehension of English.
Currently 13 students have opted to transfer into the program, and six students have transferred to another school.
But transportation is an obstacle for families who transfer.
“If you’re on a transfer, no, we’re not going to bus somebody from one neighborhood to another neighborhood,” Ms. Larios-Horton said. “Even districts with dual language immersion programs, it’s a rarity to find a district that provides transportation, either for students leaving a school that’s the DLI school or coming into a DLI school.”
Ms. Crawford said she is worried about students losing the benefits of a neighborhood school and is part of a “grassroots group” worried about the change.
An elementary charter school in the district, Adelante Charter School, already provides dual-language immersion with its own leadership. But the school is full, and the district thinks it’s time to provide the program in one of its campuses.
Adelante’s eastside location narrowed the district’s view to westward schools to become the dual-immersion campus. Many elementaries seemed to have their own flavor, like Montessori or International Baccalaureate, but McKinley was one of two that administrators thought would make a good campus for the program.
District officials conducted a feasibility study, and McKinley’s demographics stood out with a large population of bilingual and monolingual Spanish-speaking students.
The study also recommended the full grade level converts rather than having a class of traditional teaching and a class of dual immersion.
“It just made sense to start it there,” Ms. Larios-Horton said.
“We also happened to have hired a new principal there. And she has experience with dual language immersion from Oxnard, so we kind of scored in that area that we had in principal already there with experience,” she said. “So all roads lead to McKinley.”
Elena Garcia-Yoshitomi is finishing her second school year as McKinley’s principal. The new dual-immersion teachers were hired around the same time, with the intention they could teach dual language if the school added the program.
Administrators are currently touring families through McKinley’s campus from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays. Parents must reserve a 30-minute spot in advance at forms.gle/5uKhfRKF8GfqrnzV8.
Ms. Crawford also plans to attend, hoping to influence the district’s offerings. She hopes for an option for students within McKinley’s boundaries to study in a traditional classroom.
The program was approved by the school board in April 2020 as part of the district’s META (Multilingual Excellence Transforming Achievement) plan.