Del Mar schools sixth graders taking Spanish this year, one-way immersion planned for 2020

Del Mar Union School District Spanish teachers Whitney Botron, Linda Bonagura and Jessie Salas.

The Del Mar Union School District successfully rolled-out its new Spanish language program this school year and is looking ahead to 2020, when it plans to offer a one-way immersion program where students’ instruction in nearly every subject would be in Spanish.

Shelley Petersen, assistant superintendent of instructional services, said the district’s world language program falls under the umbrella of the California Department of Education’s Global California 2030 which states a goal 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.

“What the state promotes is that learning multiple languages creates an awareness and an understanding of different cultures and leads to higher performing students and better problem solvers,” Petersen said.

Del Mar began pursuing a world language program last year after hearing strong desire for foreign language instruction from parents. Parents were surveyed on their preferred language and a large majority preferred Spanish, with Mandarin finishing second.

This year the district opted to launch a FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools) program, focusing on meaningful interaction with Spanish and an integration of language and culture. The curriculum is aligned with state standards and is scaffolded for different levels of proficiency, Petersen said.

The initial implementation included the hiring of three certified Spanish teachers to teach every sixth grader in the district for two hours a week.

Petersen said the district continues to move toward a one-way immersion program in 2020, in which the target language is used for all academic instruction with the exception of English language arts—an approximate split of 80 percent Spanish and 20 percent English.

“It would begin in kindergarten with a roll-up each year at a school site or possibly two, depending on interest from our community,” Petersen said. “The grade levels would roll up until we had a full strand of K-6.”

The first step in setting up a timeline for a 2020 start is establishing a district language committee, which Petersen said will begin meeting this month. Four parent information nights will be held starting in January, prior to kindergarten enrollment. The district has not yet decided which school or schools the one-way immersion program will be housed but the location will draw students from all over the district.

In addition to the one-way immersion program, Petersen said the district also plans to continue to develop the FLES program over time, such as expanding to a two-year program starting in fifth grade to better prepare students heading into middle school.

“It’s such an exciting program,” said Del Mar Union School District Board President Erica Halpern. “It’s great to see what progress we’re making and I’m looking forward to seeing where it’s all going.”