Westminster’s Dual Language Early Learning Programs
By Carolyne Crolotte
Senior Policy Analyst
Early Edge California
Westminster School District, located in Orange County, California, has a large percentage of Dual Language Learner (DLL) and English Learner (EL) students. To support these children, they are implementing dual immersion programs in both Spanish and Vietnamese, which have recently been expanded to include Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten.
First Vietnamese Dual Immersion Program in California
Westminster is home to the first Vietnamese dual language immersion program in the state. DeMille Elementary, the school in which the program is being implemented, is located on the border of Little Saigon. As a result, the school identified the need to support their large and growing population of Vietnamese-speaking children’s home language. They began their dual immersion Kindergarten program in 2015 and recently added the Pre-K component in 2018.
Beverlee Mathenia, Westminter’s Executive Director of Early Learning, saw it as an obvious next step, “Why would children begin school in an English-only program and then move to a dual immersion program when they could get support in both languages from the beginning?”
Given what research says about the benefits of bilingualism, the critical role that the home language plays in the development of English, and the detrimental effects of home language loss, the school board welcomed the opportunity to implement dual immersion in their district.
Leveraging Community Resources
Finding culturally authentic, relevant, and sensitive materials in Vietnamese was a major challenge the district faced during its implementation of the program. To address this challenge, they used an innovative approach to obtaining curricular materials and teacher training: they partnered with the National Resource Center for Asian Languages (NRCAL) at California State University, Fullerton, led by Dr. Natalie Tran. NRCAL was founded in 2014 through funding from the U.S. Department of Education to provide instructional resources and professional development for less-commonly taught languages including: Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
The resources NRCAL provides for use in Westminster’s Vietnamese dual language immersion programs are reflective of Vietnamese-American experiences, culturally sensitive, and based on community needs. In addition, NRCAL offers professional development for teachers throughout the year, with sessions in both the fall and spring, as well as an intensive summer institute where teachers have the opportunity to come together with other teachers from Vietnamese dual language immersion programs and discuss topics such as translanguaging, building bridges between languages and cultures, and lesson planning in the target language.
Increased Parental Involvement and Language Skills
In 2016, Westminster School District recently opened a Spanish dual language immersion Pre-K at Willmore Elementary School. “We have seen a dramatic increase in parent involvement since we’ve opened the dual immersion preschool,” says Mathenia. “Parents feel welcome and that their language and culture are valued. This has a major impact on their children’s participation and student outcomes.”
The school’s Kindergarten teachers have shared that they’ve noticed a dramatic and positive difference in students since the launch of the new program. Kindergarten teacher, Bobbie Jo Weber, shares, “Now that the children have participated in the dual program for two years [in PreK and TK], they are arriving in Kindergarten with more language abilities in both languages, as well as other Kindergarten readiness skills.”
In addition to Spanish and English, children have the opportunity to learn a third language at Willmore: Coding. Willmore is a participant of Code To The Future, a national Computer Science immersion program that seeks to “equip students with the skills necessary for success in school and life” by teaching them coding skills. Willmore students begin participating in the program starting in Transitional Kindergarten.
What’s Next for Westminster?
Mathenia attended the 2018 TK Conference hosted by Early Edge, which had a strong focus on DLLs. After hearing Dr. Linda Espinosa’s plenary presentation on the latest NASEM report findings highlighting the crucial birth to age three window of opportunity for language development, she was convinced that she needed to begin their dual language immersion program even earlier. She approached her board about opening a dual language infant and toddler program and was given the green light. The Spanish dual language toddler program opened on April 1, 2019 and program preparations are in full swing for the infant program, which will open on August 1 of this year. They have visited model infant and toddler sites, such as the Lighthouse for Children in Fresno, a participant in the Fresno Language Project, to learn about exemplar program characteristics in supporting dual language development in the earliest years as they launch their programs.
Westminster School District has excelled in ensuring their youngest learners are on the path to success. Their innovative approach serves as a model for other districts for meeting the needs of their DLL and EL students by doing what research shows is best: providing dual language opportunities from the beginning.
Early Edge’s vision is for every young child in California to have access to high-quality Early Learning teachers and programs that provide them with the opportunity to become bilingual and biliterate. Read our Policy Paper to learn more.