Say ¡Hola! or Bonjour to Park City’s Dual Language Immersion Program

As Park City’s school kids get ready to head back to the classroom on August 20, many first graders will be starting their first day in Dual Language Immersion (DLI), where half of every day is spoken exclusively in either French or Spanish.

Park City was the first district to have all of its elementary schools participating in the program, and elected to have French DLI at Jeremy Ranch and Trailside, and Spanish at McPolin and Parley’s Park. McPolin is has a full-school DLI program, wherein every student enrolled is placed into the program, while the other three schools have just two classes per grade, and engage in a lottery system each spring to determine which interested students will be placed into one of the available spots. It’s a program that’s been a feather in the cap of the Park City School District, but it’s also one whose future comes up for discussion year after year as the district struggles with meeting the needs of Park City’s Dual Language Immersion Program students in terms of qualified teachers and space.

The statewide DLI program was initiated by former Governor Jon Hunstman, Jr., who – having served as U.S. Ambassador to both Singapore and China – recognized that dual language learners are likely to be more competitive in the global business arena. The program was also lauded as a way to enhance the state’s economic development by demonstrating that Utah was progressive (a rarity in the Beehive State) in developing citizens from an early age who will ultimately have the skills necessary for certain jobs in government, business and education.

My oldest daughter is entering her third DLI year, and I can already see the benefits. In a community where a significant number of fellow residents are Spanish native speakers, I’ve witnessed the inclusiveness the program is creating across diverse groups of children and parents, and it encourages early educational success for ESL students because they learn challenging subjects like math and science in their native language. But the benefits, according to the Utah State Office of Education, are even more impactful, and include:

  • Second Language Skills: Students achieve high proficiency in the immersion language.
  • Performance on Standardized Tests: Immersion students perform as well as or better than non-immersion students on standardized tests in English.
  • Cognitive Skills: Immersion students typically develop greater cognitive flexibility, demonstrating increased attention control, better memory, and superior problem-solving skills as well as an enhanced understanding of their primary language.
  • Cultural Competency: Immersion students are more aware of and generally show more positive attitudes towards other cultures & an appreciation of other people.
  • Long Term Benefits: Immersion students are better prepared for the global community and job markets where 21st century skills are an asset.

Students in the program spend half the day with a teacher instructing math, science and social studies in the target language, and the other half with a teacher instructing language arts in English. Proficiency goals are set for each grade, with the presumption that students will take the AP exam in their target language in ninth grade, and university-level courses in grades 10-12. It’s best explained by the flow chart below (note that most Park City students start in first grade):

Chart found here.

Many parents were initially gun shy of the program when it was introduced seven years ago at Parley’s Park Elementary, fearing students would fall behind in core subjects, such as reading and math. Those first-year students went into seventh grade last week, and the notion of them falling short of their peers did not come to fruition. Rather, as demonstrated by the district’s “Dual Immersion Current and Future Status” presentation last fall, DLI students have been consistently outperforming their peers in – of all subjects – English Language Arts.

If you’re considering entering your child in Dual Language Immersion, check out the state’s DLI video by clicking here, or ask to sit in on a class at the school your child will be attending. Initial meetings for incoming first graders are usually held in January, so visit Park City School District’s DLI page throughout the winter for updates. You can also call me to chat about my first-hand experience as a parent in a program that gives prospective residents yet one more reason to Choose Park City.

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