Visalia Unified School District receives $400,000 grant from state department of education to further development of student multilingual skills
VISALIA – The California Department of Education is paving the way towards a new generation of multilingual residents in the state, and Visalia’s there to walk the path.
Amongst a handful of applicants throughout the state, Visalia Unified School District was one of 27 school districts in California to be awarded a dual language immersion (DLI) grant, the first grant of its kind, from the California Department of Education (CDE). With the grant, the school district can help reach the CDE’s goal of equipping students with multilingual skills to eventually achieve a multilingual state, and also promote student appreciation and engagement with diverse cultures throughout the world.
“We are excited to have this unique funding opportunity from the state to focus on providing our students with the opportunity to learn Spanish in elementary school,” Visalia Unified Superintendent Kirk Shrum said.
Research indicates that it’s beneficial for kids to acquire a second language, according to Andre Pecina, Visalia Unified administrator for communications, strategy and outreach. By learning another language, students are provided with the soft skills they need to develop socially, academically and professionally, which are skills like communication, teamwork and adaptability amongst others. Additionally, it teaches them to be more empathetic to other cultures.
“We know that research shows when students acquire a second language, their achievement actually increases quite a bit, because it’s complex,” Pecina said. “If you’re bilingual, you’re having to move from one language to another, and there’s a lot of processing that’s happening.”
The grant is meant to provide funding over the course of three years and will provide Visalia Unified with the means to enhance the district’s current dual immersion program at Mountain View Elementary, which teaches Spanish to kindergarteners and first graders. It is known as the VISTA program, inspired by the school’s name of a mountain “view” but translated to Spanish to enhance the idea of multilingualism. It is also Visalia Unified’s first DLI program, which launched last year with a kindergarten class and expanded to first grade this year, according to Pecina.
The grant will also be used to assist the district as it figures out how to scale their DLI program. Pecina said it is still too early into the process to know exactly how the program will expand to other schools in Visalia. Mountain View Elementary was chosen for criteria like capacity and location. However, when the school district eventually takes on the discussion about how to further the program, he said they will start to talk about expanding it to other elementary grades and Visalia school sites with input from the superintendent and board of education.
Additionally, when it comes to incorporating languages other than Spanish, the district would need to determine what other languages have a higher need locally. Also, the school district would need to start searching for more teachers with a bilingual, cross-cultural, language and academic development (BCLAD) certificate in the language of interest.
The California Department of Education received over 100 applications for the grant, which exceeded their expectations, according to Visalia Unified. The grant aligns with the state’s Global California 2030 initiative, the initiative was launched by the state in 2018 by Tom Torlakson, who was the California superintendent of public instruction at the time.
According to the initiative’s report from 2018, the goal is to equip students with world language skills so they may better appreciate and engage with a diverse mix of cultures, heritages and languages found in California and throughout the rest of the world. Additionally, it prepares them for success in the global economy.
The dual language immersion grant was established by Assembly Bill 130 as a way to expand access to learning more than one language, as well as promote other languages that non-English speakers bring to California’s education system, according to the department of education. Grantees are expected to provide integrated language learning and academic teaching in elementary and secondary schools for both native and non-native English speakers; and they must do so with goals of high academic achievement, first and second-language proficiency and cross-cultural understanding.