Saugus sets meetings on dual language immersion program

Principal Susan Bender sits in on a class at Highlands Elementary School in Santa Clarita on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

By Caleb Lunetta
Signal Staff Writer

In the past six months since Saugus Union School District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins was named to her position, she and her office have been planning to kick-start the district’s first-ever “Dual Language Immersion” program.

Now, after seven months of development, SUSD officials are offering two informational meetings next week for parents to come learn about the new program, as well as information about enrollment.

At the beginning of the 2019-20 school year in August, two kindergarten classrooms at Highlands Elementary School, approximately 50 students, will be taught their state-mandated curriculum — but 90 percent will be in Spanish and 10 percent in English.

“Our program is going to be set apart because it’s unlike providing a classroom where it’s 50/50,” said Hawkins, who then turned to a video of a high school student from her previous district she said was immersed in a 90-10 program in kindergarten. “She is fully fluent and has masterful, beautiful Spanish, even though she came in as an English-only speaker.”

Hawkins said a big goal of hers coming into the district was to share her previous DLI experiences and knowledge. Two important aspects she worked to include in the program are free enrollment for all SUSD students and open enrollment for all SCV families whose child is scheduled to begin kindergarten this year.

“We’ve found from experience, even though this is a new program for Saugus, and the research that students (who) are immersed in the 90 percent model tend, especially students that are English-only speakers, to do better with their acquisition of the target language quicker while still maintaining their English skills,” Hawkins said.

“We had a parent ask us, ‘I don’t speak Spanish at home, so how am I going to help my kid with their homework?” said Isa De Armas, assistant superintendent for education services. She noted that when she was put into kindergarten she did not know a single word of English. “At home, my family didn’t know English that well, so when I came home with homework … it’s the reverse.”

District administrators have said not only will parents be offered their own instructional courses, but they should also not be worried about speaking English at home or around their student if that is their primary language.

“The language you use at home … you should continue that. This will just be in addition to that,” De Armas said.

SUSD officials hope next week’s meetings will help assuage some of these concerns, as well as publicize that classroom usage-balance between the two languages will evolve by the time the student is in sixth grade.

“In kindergarten, the kids won’t even know that their teachers are bilingual,” said Hawkins. “It’s not to trick the students, but it removes that crutch of knowing that you can use English to, say, ask a question.”

‘A global society’

And although the first two graduating classes of the dual immersion program are still seven years away, SUSD officials have already begun to coordinate with the William S. Hart School District.

“There are three major languages of the world: English, Spanish and Chinese,” said Hawkins. “So it’s our hope that, by the time they reach the Hart District, they’re ready to learn that third language.”

“We need to be preparing for a global society, a multicultural society,” she said. “So, that means if you work … you need to be able to communicate in more than one language.”

Those interested in hearing more about the program and/or taking the first steps toward enrolling in the Highlands elementary spanish program can attend one of the two informational meetings being held next week.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, and the second is scheduled for at 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 31. Both meetings are scheduled to take place in Highlands Elementary School multipurpose room, at 27332 Catala Ave.

Those unable to attend either meeting but are curious about the Dual Language Immersion program have also been encouraged to contact Isa De Armas at [email protected] or by phone at 661-294-5300.

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