Notes from Ward 6 Speaks – A Community Forum on Language Immersion Programs

Ward 6 Speaks

A Community Forum on Language Immersion Programs

June 11, 2015

Tyler Elementary School

1001 G St., SE, Washington, DC


Ward 6 Speaks was sponsored by the DC Language Immersion Project ( and the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization ( The goals of the evening were for the attendees to leave knowing more about language immersion programs than they knew before coming to the forum, and for them to be able to use what they learn to have further conversations about language immersion programs in Ward 6.

Principal of Tyler Elementary, Mitchell Brunson, welcomed the audience to Tyler and to the evening’s program.

There was a showing of the video Lead with Languages.

Vanessa Bertelli, co-founder of the DC Language Immersion Project, introduced the panelists.

Dr. Robert Slater, Co-Director of American Councils Rsearch Center at American Councils for International Education

Dr. Slater discussed a major, federally-funded study on language immersion programs that is on students in Portland, OR.  This study is looking at the relationship between language immersion programs and academic performance in students in grades K through 8th.  Currently the study is in its third year.  The Portland study is important because most studies to date on language immersion programs have looked at a group of students who self-select for language immersion programs.  There is a random assignment of students into the language immersion programs in Portland, and therefore, the Portland study eliminates selection bias.  In Portland, 4,500 students are in language immersion programs, and 45% of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.


Research to date has shown cognitive benefits from being in language immersion programs, and the studies suggest language immersion programs have the potential to close the achievement gaps.  Individuals with the ability to speak two or more languages are generally higher academic achievers and have higher earning powers.

The Portland study is looking at student achievement in math, reading, attendance, and retention.  To date, the Portland study is showing positive effects in reading in grades 4 and 6; positive attendance effects in grades 1, 5, and 7.  To date, there have not been positive effects shown for math.  In Portland, families in language immersion programs tend to stay in the school district beyond 1st grade.

Language immersion programs are not panaceas for education.  It takes hard work, including a focus on teacher development.  It is a potentially powerful tool when done right.  It is important to be careful about expansion.  Starting a lot of language immersion programs without the proper support will likely not result in intended benefits.

Pearl You, Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School

Ms. You discussed the highlights, challenges, and next steps facing Yu Ying.  Yu Ying has been in existence for seven years.  It is an International Bacaulaureate school.  39% of the students are African American, 38% White, 6% Hispanic, and 3% Chinese.  The school generally scores in the top 10 on the DC Comprehensive Assessment Test (DC CAS) among all the charter schools.

Yu Ying has a Chinese Literacy Program.  They work in writing, guided reading, listen to reading, read to self, and work hard.

Yu Ying provides home resource support, and a parent portal to help families who don’t speak Chinese at home.

Teacher training consists of 1) pre-service/practicums, internships, student learning; 2) novice/mentor program; and 3) in-service.

Challenges include teacher recruitment, training and retention.  Teachers coming from China have litter experience working with American students or the American pedagogy.  They have been successful hiring students from NYC and University of Maryland.

Sara Arranz and Mieya Timmons, Cleveland Elementary School

Sara discussed the student population at Cleveland Elementary.  51% of the students are at-risk, and 66% of the students are black and 29% Hispanic.

Sara teaches “in” Spanish.  You must respect the “silent” period when children are learning the language.  The second language must be embedded in the content.  There must be a commitment and resources.  The children need a lot of exposure to the second language.  There is a lot of repetition.  You have to simplify the instruction.  They use a project-based approach with a lot of visuals and manipulations.

Where is the magic?  There is a tremendous amount of power in the community of parents, teachers, administrators and students working together.  The data are showing better performance.  Use a data wall, individual plan of work, and blended learning model.

Mieya spoke about the support for families that is provided at Cleveland.

Jimell Sanders, co-founder of DC Immersion Project

Ms. Sanders lives in Ward 7 in the Deanwood community, and is in-bounds for Houston Elementary.   She has a 21-month old child.

The DC Immersion Project wants to help ensure all Wards have the option of language immersion programs.  She suggested getting in contact with other parents to find out if they are interested.  It is imperative that the principal be supportive.  You also need to educate teachers at the school.  It is a process; there must be multiple conversations in the community.  Talk with prospective and current parents in the community.  Language immersion programs take money.  The DC area has so many resources, e.g., organizations that could help support language immersion programs.  Ms. Sanders said it has taken about 18 months to begin the language immersion program at Houston Elementary.

Katarina Brito, DCPS Bilingual Program Developer, Language Acquisition Division

Bilingual language immersion programs were originally intended to serve English language learners, and getting them to learn English was the goal.

Bilingual instruction benefits all students.  DCPS has made great strides in language immersion offerings.  In 2003, there was one dual-language immersion program in DCPS with 400 students in grades pre-K to 6th.  In 2015 there are nine dual language programs serving 3000 students in grades preK-3 to 11th grade.

DCPS has also committed to Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) where all students are exposed to one or more classes a week in another language.

DCPS has formed an Office of Global Education.

Soon there will be a focused middle school, McFarland, and high school, Roosevelt.  DCPS is starting a Seal of Bi-literacy for student who graduate with proficiency in a second language.

DCPS is exploring ways to bringing sustainable and carefully designed dual language programs to underserved communities.

DCPS is encouraging school leaders and communities to explore dual language; there need to be whole school community conversations.

DCPS has put in place a Dual Language Application.  It is a multi-year process.

Io Ken, 4th grade student at Tyler Elementary’s Spanish Immersion Program

Hola.  Me llamo Io y soy una estudiante en la escuela Tyler en la clase de cuarto grado.

Tengo una pregunta para ustedes.  Cuales son los beneficios de aprender un segundo idioma?

Voy a empezar con mis razones.

Primero, aprendiendo un segundo idioma puedo tener conversaciones con personas que no hablan mi idioma nativo.

Segundo, aprendiendo otro idioma como el español es mas fácil aprender un otro idioma similar.

Tercero, si sabes muchas idiomas puedes ir a otros países y hablar el idioma.  Por ejemplo, mi familia y yo vamos a viajar a Chile para seis meses.

Cuarto, saber otros idiomas puede ayudar con su confidencia.  Mi amiga Amina dice “aunque no lo dices supercorrecto, hay personas que no pueden decir “uno””!

Cinco, para muchas personas es “cool”!

Mas importante que todo, investigaciones científicas dicen que aprender un segundo idioma puede ayudar tu cerebro a ser mejor, mas rapido.

Yo no estoy aquí para disfrutar la atención, sino para asegurarme que todos niños en nuestro país puedan tener las mismas oportunidades y posibilidades que yo tengo en la programa de inmersión.  Un segundo idioma te ayuda a comprender ideas en una manera mejor.  Así que podemos ser como niños en muchísimos otros países del mundo que ya aprenden dos idiomas o mas.


(English Translation)

Hello.  My name is Io, and I am a student at Tyler Elementary in the 4th grade.
I asked myself a question, and maybe a question all of you could ask yourself.  What are the benefits of students learning another language?  Let me start with my reasons.

First, learning a second language can help you converse with people who don’t speak your native language.

Second, learning a second language, such as Spanish, can help you learn other similar languages.

Third, if you know multiple languages you can travel to other countries and speak the language.  For example, my family and I are moving to Chile for six months.

Fourth, learning other languages can boost you confidence.  My best friend Amina says, “Even if you mess up, some people can’t even say uno.”

Fifth, socially it’s cool.

But the most important reasons is that research shows learning a second language can help you organize your mind and process things better and faster.

I am here not for the attention, but to make sure that every kid can have the opportunities and possibilities I have in the dual-language program.  A second language helps you understand concepts better.  And we will be like kids all over the world that learn at least two languages.


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