Over the years, Santa Barbara County families have become more interested in enrolling their children into dual language immersion programs—where students split their day learning in two languages and eventually become bilingual, Dr. Carlos Pagán said.
“It just opens the door for more jobs, for more communities, to explore, and to travel. Learning a second language, or more than two, has always been something that has been seen as a big plus and a big opportunity for us to pursue,” said Pagán, the director of literacy and language support for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
Santa Barbara County’s dual language immersion programs have expanded from two to 14, with opportunities in Guadalupe, Santa Maria, Solvang, Lompoc, Goleta, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria—and the majority of those programs have waiting lists, he said.
In order to meet the growing demand for dual language programs, the Santa Barbara County Office of Education applied for a $10 million Educator Workforce Investment Grant (EWIG) for Effective Language Acquisition programs, Pagán said. Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties were grouped together in one zone for the award and will receive $2.5 million each year for a two-year period.
Through this grant, the Santa Barbara County Education Office wants to provide more professional development opportunities, hire three part-time program specialists to help implement programs in different parts of the county, and eventually provide the certification so more teachers can run dual immersion programs. The office should know by Oct. 26 if it can begin offering courses for certification and authorization.
“That is often what keeps districts from adding programs,” Pagán said. “The EWIG also supports the bilingual teacher pipeline and encourages more teachers to get that authorization.”
Prior to Proposition 58, students learning English in the state were required to learn the language in English-only classrooms. After voters passed the proposition in 2018, schools were able to open doors to new curriculums, including dual language immersion programs, Pagán said.
“It’s an additive program versus a subtractive program. In this case we’re adding a language for both groups of students [English-only and English learners],” he said. “Dual language immersion brings students together, and [they] can be peer models for the language with the goal of English-only students speaking Spanish and the English learner speaking English.”
Teachers have already indicated an interest in getting their certification, and Pagán hopes that interest will grow once the Education Office gets word from the California Department of Education that the county can offer certification courses. Once the county’s expanded programs are approved, Pagán said he expects the first cohort to start July 2024.
“It’s going to be local and in person so our teachers won’t have to travel very far,” he said. “We’re just very excited about doing this work and helping and supporting our teachers in our [districts].”
By enrolling students into dual language programs, children have a better chance of holding onto those skills and carrying them into adulthood, he added.
“When you only study a second language in high school, I see people saying that they studied a language for four years and don’t remember what they’ve learned,” Pagán said.
Along with the elementary programs, Pagán said there are feeder programs into the middle and high school levels for students to continue honing their skills. When they graduate they can receive the state seal of biliteracy on their diploma to demonstrate that they’ve met the requirements for English and an additional language.
“Learning a second language or more than one has always been something that has been a big plus, a big opportunity for us to pursue,” he said. “I think our families are recognizing that because they know the importance of being bilingual and multilingual. It just opens more opportunities for a variety of things.”
• The Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department is now accepting applications for those wishing to create a colorful altar to honor a passed loved one, or for businesses or nonprofits wishing to become a vendor, in Santa Maria’s annual Día de Los Muertos Festival on Oct. 29. The festival will be located at the Veterans Memorial Center, 313 West Tunnel St., and will run from noon to 4 p.m. Attendees can enjoy live music, youth activities, crafts, food, vendors, and altar displays. Applications can be picked up Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Recreation and Park Department, 615 South McClelland Street. Visit cityofsantamaria.org for an altar, booth, or vendor application. Direct questions to (805) 925-0951, Ext. 2260, or email [email protected].
Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].