Now in its third year, Thompson Elementary School’s Dual Language Immersion program has gone from a curiosity to one of the most popular programs in the district.
The K-5 program teaches students in both English and Spanish as a way to develop stronger academic skills while also expanding cultural literacy.
When it was first introduced in 2015, school principal Ralph Wisner wasn’t sure he would have enough children to fill a class. The program has now grown to 117 students spanning three grade levels and has a waiting list of families who want to enroll their kids.
“When we first started our program, dual language was new to our community, it was new to our school, it was new to our district,” Wisner said. “There were a lot of questions.”
Latino families were especially skeptical in the early days. Wisner said many Spanish-speaking parents thought their children should only be learning English. That perception is changing as more students succeed in the program, Wisner said.
“Now that they’ve seen the power of it and they have friends who have gone through the program, now we have more and more parents requesting access to it,” he said.
Thompson uses what’s referred to as a 90/10 model for its program. That means in kindergarten and first grade, approximately 90 percent of instruction is in Spanish and 10 percent is in English. As students transition to higher grades, more of the instruction shifts to English, so that in the upper grades there will be an equal division of Spanish and English instruction.
First grade teacher Rosa Bushey is in her second year in Thompson’s Dual Language Immersion program. She developed an interest in languages while in high school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Spanish.
Bushey, who taught fifth grade before the dual language program was introduced, said it’s inspiring to see her students soaking up so much information.
“I love to be able to share my love for the language, and I love seeing these young minds developing so rapidly and learning a new language so quickly,” she said. “They’re also able to learn the academic content at the same time, and that’s so rewarding.”
Thompson’s dual language classes have roughly 50 percent native English speakers and 50 percent native Spanish speakers. The program currently runs through fifth grade, but Wisner hopes it will expand to eighth grade by the time current students reach middle school.
Thompson’s program is proving to be popular in the district, but it’s also getting attention from state leaders. Just last month Thompson was awarded a $15,800 grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to expand the Dual Language Immersion program.
In announcing the grant, Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal touted the importance of learning a second language.
“There is a need for all students to learn two languages,” Reykdal said in the grant announcement. “In my six-year vision for restructuring K-12 education in Washington state, I call for all students to learn a second language, and to begin that learning in kindergarten, if not earlier. Knowing how to communicate in multiple languages, especially in our increasingly diverse and globally interdependent world, is crucial to student success beyond high school.”
While it’s hosted at Thompson, the Dual Language Immersion program is available to all Bethel children. More information about the program is available here.