Photos by Emily N. Tanaka.
State officials and advocates of multilingual students’ rights flocked to Patrick Henry Elementary to celebrate the City of Long Beach’s “Dual Immersion Day” Thursday morning, in honor of the school’s pilot bilingual educational program.
Officials who attended the event hope the recent passage of proposition 58 will persuade other schools to follow Patrick Henry’s academic lead.
Mayor Robert Garcia, who attended the event and delivered opening remarks, praised the city’s gradual spread of dual language education and attributed it to Patrick Henry’s “Two Way Immersion Program”—a grassroots program established in 1989 that teaches all academic subjects in both English and Spanish.
The event also featured speakers from multiple government programs and educational groups along with students performing folklorico dances. The audience consisted of many dedicated teachers and parents along with the entire student population.
Patrick Henry Elementary’s whole student body is enrolled in the “Two Way Immersion Program”. John Keisler, president of the Patrick Henry Foundation and host of the event, said he has two children enrolled in the program. Keisler knows very little Spanish but his kids are bilingual and he views their multilingual education as an ordinary part of life.
“They don’t understand that what they're doing is difficult and special,” Keisler said.
In November, the state voted to pass proposition 58 and eliminated many of the institutional barriers that prevented school districts from establishing and expanding multilingual programs. Keisler hopes the program will expand under the new law and have an opportunity to flourish with support from the state.
The Department of Education at Cal State Long Beach has begun redeveloping their programs in anticipation of the growing popularity of dual immersion programs and the expected high demand of teachers in the state who can teach their specialized academic subjects in a variety of different languages, according to department chair Dr. Paul Boyd-Batstone.
“Bilingual programs are in more demand than ever. Not just Spanish but Mandarin is in a higher demand than ever,” Dr. Boyd-Batstone said. “Our dual language education master’s program is not language specific. Many of our students speak Korean, Mandarin and Vietnamese.”
In Long Beach, English is not the primary language for 45 percent of Long Beach residents and the majority of that group is of Latino and Asian descent.
However only Spanish and English are taught in the five schools that offer dual immersion programs in the district. Dr. Boyd-Batstone envisions a diverse set of programs and teachers that will suit the cultural needs and interests of all the city’s children.
For parents and teachers who helped launch the pilot program almost three decades ago, proposition 58’s passage is a victory that validates years of hands-on dedication. Shelly Spiegel-Coleman was one of those founding parents of the program at Patrick Henry.
“The fact that 73 percent of the electorate voted in November to support multilingual education really says a lot for the pioneering work that was done here at [Patrick Henry Elementary]. This school’s a model for schools all over the state who are now talking about beginning and expanding their current programs,” Spiegel-Coleman said.
Now, Spiegel-Coleman continues to advocate for multilingual education as the executive director of a statewide organization, Californians Together, dedicated to assisting in the growth and development of dual immersion programs.
“The opportunity for every child to become bilingual and biliterate is a gift and an honor and something that every child should be able to achieve in our state,” Spiegel-Coleman said.