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Dual language program to debut

by Kathryn Dunn | editor@claremont-courier.com

Mountain View Elementary School will open a dual immersion program for kindergartners this fall, with teachers integrating both English and Spanish curriculums.

Dual language immersion aims to build bilingualism and biliteracy, the district says, as native English and native Spanish speaking students “speaking, reading, writing, adding, subtracting, experimenting and singing” in both languages.

Mountain View principal Rria Cruz-Soto, whose first language is Spanish, remembers entering kindergarten on the East Coast as an English Language Learner.

“I remember relying heavily on a student who spoke Spanish,” she said. “The English dominant speakers will rely on the Spanish dominant speakers to get through. I remember that one student who could help me get through. We’re still friends to this day.”

As a former principal at a dual language elementary school that offered preschool through fifth grade multilingual instruction, Ms. Cruz-Soto said the success of the program relies heavily on maintaining a balanced enrollment.

“Starting at three years old, we offered Spanish only. Then at four years old it was split 50/50,” she said. “It’s very important to have those Spanish speakers in the program.”

Mountain View already has students who speak Spanish and of the 24 students in a typical kindergarten class, half need to be Spanish speakers.

“Our demographics would be able to support filling those seats,” she said

Kindergarten enrollment began February 3, and Ms. Cruz-Soto said there is strong interest in the program with a good amount of folks already filling out the application from schools across Claremont.

Under the leadership of Julie Olesniewicz, assistant superintendent of educational services, the pilot program will offer a kindergarten through third grade tract, with students working in a cohort for the four years.

The program will not replace traditional kindergarten at Mountain View, but rather give another option to Claremont families.

“Next year, those kindergarteners will move to first grade, then the next group would jump into the kindergarten. It’s a dual immersion strand but we will still offer English-only classes as well.”

Students in the dual immersion program are taught using the California State Standards in English and Spanish, the district presented to the school board last week.

Instruction is delivered in kindergarten equally in Spanish and English, with classes made up by half English and half Spanish speaking students.

“By second or third grade, the kids are completely bilingual,” Ms. Cruz-Soto said. “You have students whose parents at home speak no Spanish, but if you’re in a dual language program, where there is fidelity to the program, the kids do become bilingual and biliterate by second grade; even for the kids who never had Spanish in their home. And if they speak Mandarian or Chinese, they leave trilingual. It’s an amazing program.”

According to the district, research shows that fluency in dual languages helps students strengthen cognitive skills, equips them with skills to succeed in a global economy and gives them a competitive edge for college scholarships and career opportunities.

“When they go to high school, they’ll be biliterate in both languages,” Ms. Cruz-Soto said. “When they get to college, saying they’ve participated in a dual language program will be a benefit. It’s very different from just taking a Spanish class where you’re learning the foundations—body parts, food—in a dual immersion class you’re learning curriculum and content in Spanish. You’re doing science and social studies in Spanish.” 

CUSD offers this program to any family in the district, regardless on home school assignment, but an application for transfer must be submitted to the district office.

If you are interested in enrolling your child, fill out an application located at Student Services office at 170 W. San Jose Ave., Claremont.

After a review of applications, families and students will have an appointment at Mountain View where the child is assessed to determine his or her native language levels, the district said.

If the district gets more applications than seats available, a lottery will be conducted to determine admission. Priority is given to those who live in the Claremont Unified School District. Those living outside the district will need to complete an “out of district” transfer request.

Ms. Cruz-Soto is thrilled to see the program finally come to fruition.

“The community has been asking for this a long time,” Ms. Cruz-Soto said. “And it’s been a conversation in our district a long time. Coming from the experience, I know how to run a program. I can ensure it will be successful, and I’m really excited to get started.”

For more information, contact CUSD student services at (909) 398-0609.

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