State Sen. Monique Limón is championing a bill in the Legislature that would give more students the opportunity to participate in dual language immersion programs.
SB 952 would create a competitive grant opportunity for 20 school districts across California to create and maintain a dual language immersion program. These programs begin early in a student’s education experience, generally around kindergarten, and last until about grade eight.
“In addition to the academic value that comes from it, of course, the professional and community values that come from it are also incredible,” Sen. Limón, D-Santa Barbara, told the News-Press. “This is coming at a time when public schools are also trying to identify what are good educational models that are important to the community and parents.”
The bill is sponsored by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who said he’s worked with the senator for years on dual language programs, dating back to his time in the Legislature.
“We know that with dual language immersion programs, when children learn another language, it supports brain development and prepares students to be global leaders in the world,” Superintendent Thurmond told the News-Press.
Sen. Limón’s bill would require the California Department of Education to administer the five-year grant program and award a minimum of 20 one-time grants up to $750,000 to eligible local education agencies or preschools.
The goal, Sen. Limón said, would be to include students of all levels in a dual immersion program, from students who only speak English to students who are already immersed in more than one language to students who are not native English speakers.
“The thing about the dual immersion program is they’re designed to take a little bit of everything. They’re very intentional about who goes into the program,” she said. “It’s a very important piece to this model of instruction.”
The program would give applicable school districts the ability to pick what language would make sense to their unique communities, Superintendent Thurmond said.
“We know that existing schools should have resources that allow them to reimagine the way they deliver education,” Superintendent Thurmond, a former West Contra Costa Unified School Board member, said.
The push for this legislation comes when school enrollment across the state, including in the Santa Barbara area, has declined.
This bill “gives parents something to be excited about,” Superintendent Thurmond said, noting families have had to make countless sacrifices throughout the pandemic. “We want them to see this as something positive about public schools. We know that dual language immersion programs are something that is popular among our families and not always available. It creates a reason for California to reinvest in California education.”
A bill analysis included research showing dual language immersion programs and biliteracy programs beginning at a young age are beneficial.
“The cognitive, communicative, cultural and economic benefits of knowing English and another language are most likely to occur when individuals have high levels of linguistic and functional competence in both languages, including speaking, listening, reading and writing in both,” the analysis said. “This is most likely to occur if development of the home language is maintained throughout the preschool and school years as dual language learners learn English.”
Sen. Limón and Superintendent Thurmond recently visited Juan Lagunas Soria Elementary School in Oxnard to meet with sixth-grade students who are participating in a dual language immersion program learning Spanish.
“It’s not only the skill that they have but the incredible confidence they have in speaking two languages,” Sen. Limón, who previously served on the Santa Barbara Unified School Board, said. “They can read, write and speak in two languages, and they’re pretty confident about it.”
Superintendent Thurmond was so impressed by the students that he has invited them to the Capitol to make a presentation to lawmakers and get to experience civics firsthand — another added bonus from the dual language immersion program.