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A female teacher helps a student in a classroom
The Vista Unified School District is moving forward with a plan to expand its dual language immersion program next school year. The program began last year with kindergartners at Grapevine Elementary School. Photo by Stev
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Dual immersion program takes off in Vista

VISTA — During Vista Unified School District’s board of trustees meeting on Feb. 13, the board approved the second reading of the new dual-language policy. The policy outlines high-level goals and roadmaps for the increasingly popular program, said trustee Cipriano Vargas.

Board President Rosemary Smithfield said this program is a “full-on” dual language immersion program, not like the one the district used to conduct years ago.

VUSD rolled out the program last year for kindergartners at Grapevine Elementary School with 50 students. The success has been overwhelmingly positive as the number of students participating has tripled, according to Principal Rafael Olavide. He said there are 75 first-graders and 75 kindergartners.

“We got to do it right,” Vargas said. “We want community support and build it up. We don’t want to force it.”

Olavide has also been spearheading the district’s dual-language committee, conducting outreach at various schools across the district to gauge interest, he said. Olavide said the district has received another 150 interest forms from parents, and data used from those and other metrics to determine the next school to begin the program.

Vargas, a former dual language kindergarten teacher in San Antonio, added other data points such as school capacity and sites with declining enrollment will also be part of the discussions. Smithfield said the goal is to roll out the program at Alamosa Elementary School starting next school year.

Eventually, the program will be phased in throughout the district, the three said.

The plan at Grapevine started with kindergartners and added first grade this year, most of whom enrolled in the program last year. Next year, Olavide said, preschool, transitional kindergarten and second grade will be available at the school.

“There are checkpoints through multiple assessments,” he said of how the program is will be rolled out. “There is a lot of interest in opening more programs in schools.”

Vargas, though, said one goal for the outreach was to “demystify” the program and deliver information regarding its booming popularity, how it positively impacts academic performance and engages students in cultural diversity.

The trio, though, also said the program is opening up more opportunities to recapture students who have left the district for a variety of reasons. With an aggressive push, coupled with the better academic performances, it is a way for VUSD to increase its numbers, which have fallen by about 7,000 students over the past 15 years.

Smithfield, also a former teacher, said dual immersion is also a benefit for students on a global scale, noting many children in European countries speak two to three languages.

“I feel we’ve been selling our kids short,” she said.

Vargas said it will only help in the years to come when those students enter the workforce, saying the world is a global economy and speaking at least two languages, or more, is a huge advantage.

In addition, the policy also shows how students will achieve a seal of bi-literacy upon graduating from high school. Vargas said the program will be a pipeline from kindergarten through 12th grade, but the district has no plans on eliminating language programs in high schools.

In fact, it will allow students to learn a third language and perhaps a second seal of fluency from the state, he said.