LONGVIEW — About half the students at an elementary school in Woodland are learning to speak both Spanish and English as part of a districtwide effort to make dual-language programs a mainstay of the learning experience.
State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced in a press conference last week that expanding access to dual-language programs across the state was one of the office’s legislative goals for the upcoming year.
Teaching students another language has a direct effect on students’ comprehension and development skills, Reykdal said, as well as their cultural literacy.
“These programs are obviously proving to be very successful,” Reykdal said in last week’s press conference.
Principal David Starkey said Columbia Elementary School started its dual-language program about four years ago.
Students at the school spend about half their day between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking classes. The hallways have bilingual posters so students can practice reading both languages, and some teachers are encouraged to exclusively speak Spanish with students.
“We are trying to make students be bilingual, bicultural and biliterate,” Starkey said.
The program puts native English speakers and Spanish speakers together in the same classrooms. English language learners make up 23 percent of Columbia Elementary School’s 408 enrolled students, according to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s school report card.
The district last year received a $100,000 two-year grant from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that helped Columbia Elementary School purchase curriculum materials that focused on a bilingual education for its students.
Starkey said the first to participate in this program were kindergartners about four years ago, with the goal they will enter middle school nearly fluent in both Spanish and English.
“They will be the first to go through it, which is pretty cool,” Starkey said.
The program started after administrators brought up the idea about seven years ago, Starkey said. Then, it came down to getting the money and training educators.
Eventually the program will expand to middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, Starkey said, but funding presents a challenge with paying for learning materials.
Recruiting employees to the school district who speak both Spanish and English has become another priority, Starkey said.
The goal is to have a balance in the school when it comes language, Starkey said. About one-third of staff are fluent in Spanish, he said.
Spanish would not be the only language offered under the state’s plan, Reykdal said. Programs across the state offer Chinese, Russian and Japanese.
Knowing any of these languages will put students in a better position when they go to apply for jobs, Reykdal said.
“One to three U.S. employers say their world language needs are not currently being met, but the demand is there for them,” Reykdal said.