Del Mar Schools to consider foreign language program

The DMUSD board at a previous board meeting.
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar Union School District is exploring adding foreign language to its curriculum.

A parent survey is expected to go out in March to determine if there is an interest in a language program, what that language of preference would be and where the priority for language lands among current STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) content areas.

“It’s more than time for Del Mar schools to offer second language instruction so I’m very enthusiastic about this,” said DMUSD President Erica Halpern at the board’s Feb. 27 meeting. “I’m happy to see that we’re working toward what kind of program would be the right one for our kids and our district.”

Shelley Petersen, assistant superintendent of instruction, said the goal would be to select a pilot site that would begin offering a language program in the 2019-20 school year. A steering committee would also be formed to develop ideas on the direction of a district-wide language program.

Spanish used to be a part of the district’s Extended Studies Curriculum (ESC) but the board removed it in 2009. ESC was re-branded to STEAM + in 2015, including the specialty programs that are partially funded by donations to the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation. Currently, DMUSD has fee-based Spanish and Mandarin programs that are offered after school.

“What we are hearing from the community is the desire to have a language experience for children within the school day,” Petersen said.

A language program would align with the goals of District Design 2022— that students “will use their understanding of different cultures to effectively communicate, collaborate and interact with empathy; that students are exposed to multiple forms of language; and that students gain knowledge and perspective by interaction with people and information both locally and globally.”

“For students who acquire a second language, it often results in higher academic achievement and greater opportunities in college and career in today’s world,” Petersen said.

Petersen referenced the California Department of Education’s Global California 2030, a document that is a call to action to increase the number of students who are multilingual and the number of classrooms that offer an opportunity to acquire a second language.

Global California’s goal is that by 2030, all K–12 students participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages. By 2040, the goal is for three out of four students to be proficient in two or more languages, earning them a State Seal of Biliteracy.

Petersen said one of the decisions the district will have to make is what type of language program it will pursue.

A dual language program refers to the use of two languages for instruction in the classroom. Petersen said the district does not have the numbers to accommodate a dual immersion program, as it is geared toward populations where at least 50 percent of students speak the target language.

“The largest concentration we have in the DMUSD is Korean speakers at Torrey Hills School but it wouldn’t be a 50-50 balance,” Petersen said.

A one-way immersion program is set up for populations that are predominantly English speaking—50 to 80 percent of the target language is taught in all subject areas with the exception of English language arts.

“In considering our demographic and our population, the DMUSD program option that would be most relevant to our community and our demographic is a one-way immersion program with the goal being proficiency and academic study in the target language,” Petersen said.

Language programs that are less intensive include FLES and FLEX options. FLES focuses on language study, requiring a commitment to language instruction for a number of hours per week that increases as students move through grade levels. FLEX is based on exposure and enrichment—students engage in activities taught in a second language, providing just basic experience of the language.

“Because we want to do this well and we want to do this the right way, I would look at initially starting with a FLES program where we focus intentional time on language study,” Peterson said.

Following an initial roll-out, Petersen said the district-wide steering committee could then make decisions about how the district continues on with language. Options could include expanding to FLES programs at all eight schools or at a handful of schools or having one school offer a one-way immersion program. The one-way immersion program could take a variety of forms: it could be a whole school program or a strand immersion where for example two sections of kindergarten would be English only and one would be a one-way immersion program, building a cohort of students that would travel together through all seven years of instruction at the district.

Based on the interest levels, there could even be one FLES school in Spanish and one in Mandarin or a mix of one-way immersion programs.

Board members were interested in getting the feedback from the parent community and had many questions about budget implications, staffing as well as the challenges posed by teaching all subject matter in a second language.

“Some of what we have to overcome is we do have parents that are very, very highly interested in our students performance academically and that is a give initially when students begin an immersion program,” Petersen said. “Content academics come a little bit more slowly until they really have a grasp of that second language.”