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LAUSD to pilot an expanded dual-language preschool program

Eloise Wong, a second-grader in Castelar Street Elementary's Mandarin dual-language program, shows off her classwork during an open house. The district now plans a pilot program expanding dual-language instruction in preschool. Kyle Stokes/KPCC

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, students already have the option to spend at least half their day learning in a language other than English at 87 elementary, middle and high schools. Two schools even offer this “dual-language” instruction to preschoolers.

Now, district officials want to add even more preschool classrooms into this mix.

At their meeting this week, L.A. Unified School board members gave the green light to a pilot program that will introduce dual-language immersion instruction into six or eight more pre-K classrooms across the district next school year, serving as many as 192 students.

Dual-language preschool programs already exist at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in Mar Vista and Wilton Place Elementary in Koreatown. After the expansion, there will be a dual-language preschool program in each of L.A. Unified's seven school board districts.

The move follows voters' passage of Proposition 58 last November. The measure repealed state laws limiting schools' ability to instruct students in languages other than English. Those limits haven't stopped L.A. Unified officials from steadily expanding their roster of dual-language options; another 16 programs in Spanish, Armenian and Mandarin are already set to come online in K-12 grades next year.

And with Tuesday's passage of a resolution authorizing the expanded program sponsored by board member Ref Rodriguez and co-sponsor Mónica Ratliff, district leaders hope to lay the groundwork for similar dual-language efforts in the early grades.

"This is an important first step to support the implementation of Prop. 58," said Araceli Sandoval-González, a consultant representing the Los Angeles Preschool Advocacy Initiative. "We often know as LAUSD goes, so do other districts."

Dual-language programs differ from "one-way" language immersion classrooms, in which English-speaking students spend all or part of their day learning in another language.

The dual-language model requires a mix of both English-proficient children with students who are still learning English in the classroom. Not only do students then receive instruction in the "target language" for up to 90 percent of their school day, but the English learners and English-proficient students are able to learn languages by speaking to each other.

Supporters touted studies showing the benefits of early language instruction.

"Research shows that children are wired to learn multiple languages successfully, that the brain is most receptive to learning language in the earliest years," said Vickie Ramos Harris of the Advancement Project, a civil rights group interested in closing the achievement gap.

"We are simply talking about bringing new, innovative approaches to existing classrooms that science says is good for kids. It can mean gains in our English learners, as well as African-American students and low-income communities, which is where our focus should be," said Amy Williams, who works on community engagement for the nonprofit group LAUP.

If anything, supporters urged the district to think bigger. Cheryl Ortega, director of bilingual education for the teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles, told board members Tuesday that "dozens" of dual-language programs for young learners already exist across the state, so the resources are in place.

In L.A. Unified, Ortega said, "there are teachers credentialed to do it … there would be no extra materials to buy, no extra teachers to recruit; they're already in the school district. Why can’t we broaden this resolution to be more than six or seven pilot schools? There are children, as the resolution said, who could benefit from this right now."

That said, Ortega called the resolution "an absolute dream."

Click here to view directories of the L.A. Unified schools currently offering bilingual education, including dual-language programs, one-way language immersion programs and others.