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Chula Vista’s Dual Language Immersion Program

Created: 01 June, 2018
Updated: 13 September, 2023
4 min read

Students at Salt Creek Elementary School in Chula Vista are learning more than just reading and writing in both English and Spanish though the school’s successful Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program.

Salt Creek is one of 21 schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District that offer a rigorous dual language program to prepare students to become not only bilingual, but bicultural.

The program runs from Kindergarten to Sixth grade, and teaches math, science, history, and other core subjects, while also exposing the students to the arts, music, dance, and cultures of Spanish-speaking countries of the world.

“It never fails to amaze me to see a very young child enter Kindergarten being immersed in Spanish… and by the end of that first year of Kinder, they are already speaking that language in pretty complete sentences,” said Mary Waldron from the Dual Language Learner Department at San Diego State University.

DLI teachers must earn a Bilingual Cross-Cultural Language Acquisition Development (BCLAD) certificate in order to teach in the program, and they continue to participate in professional development to maintain their proficiency in both languages.

Julia Martinez, one of Salt Creek’s Sixth Grade DLI teachers, has been teaching in the DLI program for 13 years, and has a son that successfully navigated the program all the way through high school.

“I’m a second language learner,” Mrs. Martinez said, “so I know first-hand how those students who are in the classroom actually feel,” she added.

Martinez shares teaching responsibilities with another DLI teacher, Mary Mendoza. For part of the day, Martinez teaches her class math in English and science in Spanish, while Mendoza teaches social studies in Spanish, Spanish literature, and English literature during the other part of the school day. Together, the two teachers cover all the subjects required under the State’s elementary curriculum.

Students in Mrs. Martinez’s DLI sixth-grade class shared their perceptions of both the benefits and the challenges of learning in two languages.

Kylie Teeple, who began the program in Kindergarten not speaking any Spanish, said the most difficult part of the class was “reading the words and translating them because my mind couldn’t process them as quickly as in English.”

“I think it will be a lot easier when getting a job or moving to a city were people speak Spanish,” Teeple added. “It was interesting to learn about other countries, their dances, and I really enjoyed our Multi-Cultural Faire.”

Makani Melendrez shared both the positives and the difficulties of his experiences in the DLI program.

“I liked going to the festivals with the music and dancing, and learning about other countries like Cuba and Portugal,” Melendrez said, “but, it was hard to get the grammar tenses right between English and Spanish and it took until Fourth Grade to really learn it right,” he added.

Other students that already spoke Spanish at home found the transition easier, but also very helpful.

“Learning English was hard because they spoke so fast,” said Dulce Villarreal, who started the program not speaking any English. “A lot of my friends helped me at recess to make it easier, but it took two years for me to feel comfortable with both languages.”

Mia Marquez, who also started the program speaking only Spanish, thinks the program is very valuable.

“It was hard to memorize the rules for both languages and keeping them equally important, but speaking both amplifies my education,” Marquez said. “It was worth it!”

Education experts have long argued that learning in two or more languages helps students perform better, and test results in the Chula Vista Elementary School District bolster that claim.

Test results for the 2016-2017 school year showed that students in the DLI program met or exceeded the state test standards by seven percentage points higher than non-DLI students.

The students in Mrs. Martinez’s class will be promoting to middle school this week, and many will continue with a DLI program offered by the Sweetwater Union School District.

The dual language program continues for seventh and eighth grades in middle school, as well as ninth and tenth grades in high school.

Students that successfully complete the DLI program through tenth grade receive a bilingual certification on their diplomas.