Santa Barbara Unified Brings Back Bilingual Education

The School Board Unanimously Votes to Adopt Multilingual Teaching Plan, McKinley Elementary Dubbed Full Dual-Language Immersion School

From top left: Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Frann Wageneck, Assistant Superintendent Meg Jetté, Boardmember Kate Ford, Chief Educational Technology Officer Todd Ryckman, Board President Laura Capps, Boardmember Jacqueline Reid, Boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources John Becchio, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Shawn Carey, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Raul Ramirez, Executive Assistant Sandra Trujilio, Boardmember Rose Muñoz, and Public Information Officer Camie Barnwell during a virtual Zoom board meeting on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.

Santa Barbara Unified has flipped the script on what it shunned more than two decades ago — bilingual education. 

The 1998 school board unanimously voted to ban bilingual education in the district, even before it became state law. Hundreds packed the board room over that vote, but Tuesday night the current school board pulled the exiled model back into the light over Zoom, where there was still virtual passion for the topic on both sides. 

The board voted unanimously to convert McKinley Elementary School to a dual-language immersion program beginning in fall 2021. They also voted unanimously to adopt the META plan (multilingual excellence transforming achievement). META is a 110-page plan to implement culturally and linguistically focused education models based on research that shows bilingualism will increase student achievement for everyone, especially students who do not speak English as their first language.

But not everyone agreed.

“English is the international language of business,” said Sheridan Rosenberg at public comment. “It is the international language of banking and finance, aviation, maritime, science and academia, and diplomacy. Rather than focusing on this idealistic META program, why not start focusing on intervening in literacy?”

Close to half of the speakers were either bilingual themselves or only spoke Spanish during their comments. All but one of them were supportive of bilingual education; some bilingual speakers also had a role on the committee that worked to create the META plan.

“I’m going to be speaking for the children whose parents at home only speak Spanish,” said Jeanette Mendoza at public comment. “I’m here to tell you why I’m against your proposed bilingual program. When I first came to this country I was 13 years old and I didn’t know any English and was enrolled in La Colina Junior High.

“All of my textbooks were in English and my teachers and friends spoke in English,” she continued. “It was in that environment I learned English.”

Francisca Sánchez, founder of Provocative Practice, and Rosa Molina, executive director of  the Association of Two-Way Dual Language Education, were hired by the district and co-authored the META plan. Molina directly addressed the research behind bilingual education.

“The fact of the matter is that the research is clear,” Molina said. “If students are engaged in formal second language study as young children and you move that study into the high school and college level, they have incredible cognitive development and a different world view.

“We heard the speakers today say that English is the most important for students to have academic success, but the reality is that a child who is bilingual and biliterate has a superior brainpower.” 

All of the boardmembers were in agreement that multilingual education is in line with the district’s recently updated mission statement: prepare students for a world that is yet to be created.

“I strongly support the need for students in the 21st century to be biliterate and bilingual,” said Boardmember Jacqueline Reid. “For me it’s like preaching to the choir. Everything you said I believe in. I think if we want students to survive they need to be global, so they need to be biliterate and bicultural.”

With the plan officially adopted, it will be implemented into the district over the next several years. META is optional. McKinley Elementary will be converted into a dual-language school in fall of next year.

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