Dual Language Immersion Schools

Since the passing of Proposition 227 (1998) in California, which established English only instruction in schools for English language learners, many bilingual programs have ceased to exist.  The traditional bilingual programs existing before Proposition 227 were specifically designed for English language learners only, primarily native Spanish speakers.  Although some of these bilingual programs included a heritage or primary language maintenance component, the ultimate goal was to have students learn English. Therefore, as students exited the primary grades, as early as third grade, Spanish instruction was replaced with English only instruction.  Though this type of bilingual program is on the decline or no longer exists in most school districts, dual language immersion or two-way immersion schools are growing in California at an exponential rate.

Dual language immersion programs, specifically two-way immersion programs, are designed for students, native and non-native speakers of English, to learn two languages; one language does not replace the other. There is a great demand for these programs and there are long wait lists at these schools.  In fact, many eager parents complete a preliminary application of interest when their child is not of school age to ensure a greater possibility of placement at the school.  For many of these schools, admission is by lottery.  Usually, these schools offer tours and information sessions throughout the school year for parents.  Upcoming school tours are often posted on the school websites.

Most dual language immersion programs enroll native English and native Spanish speakers.  Ideally, each class is made up of 50% native English speakers and 50% native Spanish speakers.  There are also dual language immersion programs that focus on other languages such as Korean, Mandarin, Japanese or French, instead of Spanish.  A great advantage of these programs is that the students come from varied backgrounds and socioeconomic status.  Although most students live approximately 5-20 minutes away from the school, it is not uncommon to have students come from areas that are 30-60 minutes away.

The main goals for these programs are for students to achieve strong levels of academic proficiency in both languages, English and the target language, and to value cultural diversity.  Many programs exist at the elementary school level only, but there is an increasing number of programs that continue to high school.  One such program exists in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Orange County, California.  They have a K-12 dual language immersion program.   Students enrolled in this program attend Gates Elementary School, Los Alisos Middle School and Laguna Hills High School. The Laguna Hills High School dual language program is affiliated with the International Spanish Academies Program from the Embassy of Spain.

Students enrolled in dual language immersion programs have the opportunity to earn a State Seal of Biliteracy Award.  On October 8, 2011, Governor Brown approved bill AB815, State Seal of Biliteracy, authored by Assemblymember Julia Brownley.  This bill established a uniform set of criteria for all California school districts recognizing students for their successful academic achievement in English and another world language(s).  If the criteria is met, the State Seal of Biliteracy is recorded on the student’s high school diploma and/or transcripts.  Previously, each school district used their own set of criteria for awarding the Seal of Biliteracy.  More information and resources regarding this award can be found on the Californians Together website.  Californians Together is a statewide coalition of advocates and other civil rights groups committed to securing equal access to underserved children in our schools.

In November, voters in California will have the opportunity to pass Proposition 58.  This proposition, also known as the Multilingual Education for a 21st Century Economy Act, will further establish dual language programs for native Spanish speakers and English speakers.  It will give parents the freedom to voice and choose the best language acquisition program for their child.  If passed, it will repeal Proposition 227.  This will increase the already growing numbers of dual language immersion programs that exist today.

For frequently asked questions about dual language immersion programs, please visit these two links:

CAL Two Way Immersion

CA Department of Education Two-Way Language Immersion

For an extensive, but not a complete list of dual language immersion schools in California, please see: California Department of Education Programs Directory

New Dual Language Immersion Schools in Orange County, CA:

Tustin Unified School District launched their first Spanish dual immersion magnet program in 2016-17, transitional kindergarten to first,  at Marjorie Veeh Elementary School.

Garden Grove Unified School District launched their first Spanish dual immersion program in 2016-17 at Monroe Elementary Language Academy.

Westminster School District is the very first California school district to offer a dual immersion program in Vietnamese at DeMille Elementary School.  The school welcomed their first kindergarten class in the fall of 2015-16

Newport Mesa Unified School District launched two dual immersion programs in the fall of 2015-16.  College Park Elementary School offers Mandarin and Whittier Elementary School offers Spanish immersion.

Magnolia School District, a small district in Anaheim, now has a dual immersion (Spanish) program at Dr. Peter Marshall Elementary School.  The program has extended to fourth grade for the new academic year, 2016-17.

Orange County’s first Korean dual immersion program began in the fall of 2013. Although the school went through several name changes, they were established in Lake Forest and were named the Orange County Language Academy, a Pathways Academy Charter School.  It was a free public charter school that provided a 50/50 language model for instruction in Korean and English.  They had to close their doors at the end of the 2015-16 academic year but have plans to continue as a home school program in 2016-17.  Their Orange County Language Academy Facebook page still exists.  For more information, email:  info@oclanguageacademy.org.

Capistrano Unified School District added a fourth elementary dual language immersion program; the newest addition provides Mandarin as the language of choice.  The program began in the fall of 2012-13 at Bergeson Elementary School in Laguna Niguel and now includes grades K-5.  Additional information about the program can be found on Friends of MIP.

Orange Unified School District added their first dual language immersion program in the fall of 2012.  Their new Mandarin immersion program is at Fletcher Elementary School in Orange.  The district also launched a Spanish immersion program at California Elementary School in the fall of 2015-16.

A new private immersion school in Costa Mesa, Renascence School International, opened its doors in the fall of 2011.  This school focuses on the development of three languages: English, Spanish and Mandarin.