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Madera students to learn English and Spanish at the same time

When school starts next August, Madera Unified will begin a new program that is designed to make local students biliterate — proficient in two languages — English and Spanish.

The educational innovation has been labeled “Dual Language Instruction” (DLI), but it is not part of the long fight over bilingual education, which resulted in Proposition 227 (1998), the “English in Public Schools” initiative.

In that year, the voters in California voted overwhelmingly to eliminate “bilingual” classes in California. For the most part, this was interpreted to mean, “Don’t teach in Spanish.”

However, in the 2016 November election, voters changed their minds by passing proposition 58, which repealed Proposition 227, by more than six million votes.

Thus is appears that the new program will have clear sailing without any attempts to derail it because it smacks of bilingualism.

According to Janet Grossnicklaus, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for Madera Unified, the DLI program will aim at developing students who are literate in two languages (English and Spanish) over a five to seven-year period. Parents of participating students must make a commitment to keep their child enrolled in the program during that time.

Grossnicklaus says the DLI program will begin at the start of the 2017-2018 school year in Madison Elementary school’s four kindergarten classes.

The expectation is that it will expand by one grade level each year until the school’s curriculum is completely biliterate.

According to Grossnicklaus, a linguistic balance will be maintained in the DLI classes with each one being composed of one-third English speakers, one-third Spanish speakers, and one-third bilingual students.

In the first year, instruction in kindergarten will be 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English. In the following years the percentages will be as follows:

Kindergarten — 90 percent Spanish; 10 percent English.

Grade 1 — 80 percent Spanish; 20 percent English.

Grade 2 — 70 percent Spanish, 30 percent English.

Grade 3 — 60 percent Spanish, 40 percent English.

Grade 4 and beyond — 50 percent Spanish; 50 percent English.

The program will be entirely voluntary, and participants will be chosen on the basis of applications submitted by parents to the district office.

When school opens for Madison students in August 2017, each of the four kindergarten teachers will have bilingual certification. As the program expands to higher grades, all of the teachers must also have bilingual credentials.

Madera Unified’s website asserts that students in DLI classes will be taught literacy and content in both languages. The district goes on to say, “It prepares our students for 21st century learning as well as college and career opportunities that will lead to success in a global economy.”

All indications are that Madera Unified is on the cutting edge of a movement that has all the earmarks of a game changer in English — Language Arts education.

About 50,000 students are enrolled in dual language programs in California, according to the California Department of Education. Ninety percent of the programs offer Spanish as a second language, followed by Mandarin, Korean, and other languages.

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