At an information session Saturday morning regarding the dual-language immersion program coming to McKinley Elementary School, the mood was filled with excitement from local parents showing up in support.
The school was recently selected by the Santa Barbara Unified School District to become a dual-language immersion campus by the end of 2027, and administrators held an information session to guide parents on tours and explain the nuts and bolts of the program.
The program received 81% support from community members in a survey in 2020, but it doesn’t quite have everyone on board. While a picket was planned for the information session, parents showed up to show support as well.
Kym Paszkeicz, a parent of two children enrolled in the district, said she heard about the opposition of some community members to the program and decided to bring two local musicians to play cultural Spanish music at the parking lot’s entrance.
“We know that there’s an effort by a group in town to not have the dual-immersion program effort here … So we just wanted to come from a place of joy and community and support,” Ms. Paszkeicz told the News-Press. “Every country and nation in the world — their children start learning the language and they’re starting in kindergarten. We don’t start until junior high or high school, which we just think is silly.
“As we enter this global society, we want our kids to be prepared for the multicultural world and (make sure) that they’re able to see the contributions of so many different histories and communities, and that language is an asset, not a deficit.”
Community members in opposition have shared concerns that the program will lead to student transfers and that students should comprehend English sooner to score higher on exams. However, most studies show bilingual students exceed the test scores of their monolingual peers in junior high.
The superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District, Hilda Maldonado, said she was surprised by the musicians showing up to the information session.
“I’m so moved right now by the actions of these parents,” she told the News-Press. “I just feel like this is a new era and this kindness, this human act of peace and love — I’m very moved and I’m so grateful for these parents.
“This is just pure human kindness, and that’s exactly what we’re about by the way, developing human kindness.”
McKinley’s principal, Dr. Elena Garcia-Yoshitomi, said that the school believes in bilingualism and biculturalism for both students who speak the target language at home and students who want to learn it.
“There’s so many advantages to learning two multiple languages: the career opportunities that you get, the great benefits you acquire and the mindset that you also acquire when learning the language and the culture at the same time,” she told the News-Press.
Maria Larios-Horton, the executive director of diversity, equity and engagement programs at Santa Barbara Unified, said the school is proud to implement the program.
“We’re really proud to be opening our elementary dual-immersion program after 21 years of not being able to offer these programs and all the while knowing that dual-language immersion is the most effective form of instruction for any student, but more importantly, an emergent multilingual learner,” she told the News-Press.
Jenny Sperling is a graduate student at UCSB and a starting professor, and attended the session to learn about the program. She said she’s interested in sociocultural and linguistic differences in school spaces.
“I feel like — I know, actually — that these are important for many reasons, and it’s not necessarily just about the importance of knowing other languages, right? This is about developing diverse perspectives and understandings of your community and your surrounding culture and the world, and that’s important starting at a young age,” Ms. Sperling told the News-Press. “That’s what these programs are made for — to make these spaces livable for all people, not just English speakers.
“I just hope that more people in our community get on board with this and recognize this world is not an English-only world and the work we’re doing here in the community is really important and dual-immersion programs are examples of that greatness.”