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Inside the dual-immersion program at Flowery

Esmeralda Sanchez

Esmeralda Sanchez

By Esmeralda Sanchez

The dual-immersion program in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District began in the 1998-99 school year with one kindergarten class, and has grown and flourished ever since. In 2013-14, the program is serving 488 students in grades K-8 at Flowery Elementary and Adele Harrison Middle schools.

Dual-immersion provides students with the opportunity to attain high levels of linguistic and academic proficiencies in Spanish and English.

The inception of the dual-immersion program in SVUSD occurred as a result of school-wide restructuring at Flowery. The need was identified to (1) restructure the school to provide greater opportunity and support for English language learner student achievement; (2) improve language proficiencies in Spanish and English; (3) increase parent involvement; and (4) increase the number of bilingual and language development certified teachers. The first dual-immersion class graduated from Sonoma Valley High School in 2011.

The program has experienced varying periods of refinement at the elementary and middle school level over the past 15 years.

Flowery and Adele Harrison were each awarded $500,000 grants from the Foreign Language Assistance Program over the 2006-10 school years. Specific goals were outlined to expand and upgrade the program at each level. The bulk of the funds were used to purchase more books and curriculum for Spanish language arts, provide teachers with opportunities for professional development, increase articulation between sites, purchase new technology, and create networking opportunities to share best practices among local dual immersion schools in the surrounding area. The grants also funded a dual immersion coordinator at each site.

As the program has grown and evolved, it has faced both challenges and areas of opportunity for further enhancement. Students complete their K-5 dual-immersion experience at Flowery and enter a new phase of language development during the middle school years that requires more rigor in order to prepare students for advanced courses in Spanish at SVHS. This calls for increased articulation among Flowery, Adele Harrison, and Sonoma Valley High School educators in order to ensure students are prepared for a successful transition from a communicative approach to language learning, to a grammar-based approach at the secondary level. Another challenge lies in the placement of eighth-grade students into Spanish courses in the high school. It is critical that dual-immersion students are able to matriculate into an appropriate sequence of courses that will fulfill the A-to-G college requirements, while at the same time taking into consideration the study of a second language over the course of nine years, prior to high school. Finally, all SVUSD schools are transitioning to the Common Core State Standards. This presents an ideal opportunity for the dual-immersion program to analyze current practices, study recent research, and ensure that the program is addressing the needs of all students.

In order to address the needs and current challenges, Superintendent Louann Carlomagno initiated the creation of a Dual-Immersion Task Force for the 2013-14 school year. The goals of the task force are to (1) develop a K-12 Dual-Immersion Master Plan to document and guide the program based on effective dual immersion research practices; (2) align the master plan for implementation to the District Strategic Plan; (3) expand and modify the master plan as new policies, research and data become available.

The task force is comprised of administrative, teacher and parent representatives from Flowery, Adele Harrison and Sonoma Valley High schools. The district has contracted with the Association of Two-Way and Dual Language Education (ATDLE) for technical assistance in developing the master plan. Rosa Molina, executive director of ATDLE, is working with the task force over a period of six months to develop the plan and make recommendations to the superintendent.

The community of Sonoma Valley has demonstrated its support of the dual-immersion program, as evidenced by Flowery’s double-digit waiting lists and parents voicing their desire to be involved in the refinement of the program at all levels. The SVUSD and the board of trustees also support the goals of dual immersion that consist of (1) bilingualism and biliteracy; (2) high academic achievement; and (3) development of cross-cultural understanding. The Dual-Immersion Task Force demonstrates the district’s commitment to ensuring the program continues to evolve and that there is a master plan in place to guide the program into the future. The dual-immersion educators in the district are committed to constant reflection and refinement of the program. We are fortunate to have all the necessary components needed to make the program thrive and expand for years to come.