Opinion: California wants most students to be bilingual by 2040. Here’s why.
Kelley is the CEO of King-Chavez Neighborhood of Schools in San Diego and lives in San Diego.
As an educator throughout my life, I have witnessed the incredible benefits that learning other languages and cultures has on our children.
Not only does bilingualism bridge the gap between home life and school life for many students, but it has also been shown to improve memory, concentration, problem solving, critical thinking and multitasking skills – and it improves long-term academic success. It also leads to a deeper appreciation of different cultures and heritages, better preparing young adults to succeed in our global economy.
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It’s no wonder the California Department of Education has implemented the Global California 2030 initiative, which aims to have half of the state’s K-12 students enrolled in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages by the new decade. State leaders also want three out of four students to be fluent in two or more languages by 2040, earning them a California biliteracy seal.
Recognizing the remarkable benefits young people can derive from an education that includes learning multiple languages, I firmly believe that San Diego County schools should lead the charge by being among the first to offer comprehensive bilingual programs to all students from kindergarten to grade 12 – and offer it from the start of the 2023-24 school year in each arrondissement.
At the King-Chavez Neighborhood of Schools, we launched a bilingual program in 2019 for Kindergarten, Kindergarten and Transition Year 1 students, and it will continue throughout their school career. Students in the program learn half of each day in Spanish and the other half in English to promote fluency in listening, speaking, reading and writing in both languages. Our goal with this program is for all King-Chavez students to graduate in bi-literacy by the end of high school.
When we launched our bilingual program, it received an overwhelmingly positive response from our students and their families. It continues to be a big hit with nearly 1,400 King-Chavez students currently in the program – and that number is growing.
We all have an exciting opportunity ahead of us, one where we can equip future generations of learners with a lifelong set of skills that leads to new opportunities that may not be available to monolingual speakers, as well as high cognitive, emotional and social skills that come with knowing multiple languages. Bilingualism also increases job competitiveness and is a key asset for advancement in many different fields, from science, technology, engineering and math to finance, journalism, government and business. education.
Another important benefit of introducing bilingual programs into the education system is that it shapes a more ethnically and socio-economically balanced school community by breaking down racial and class barriers. It also creates greater comfort and interest in diversity and different cultures, as well as a sense of belonging for many students for whom English is a second language.
It is estimated that nearly 3.8 million students across the United States are native Spanish speakers who lack English proficiency and too often struggle academically, while their English-speaking counterparts thrive in our unilingual education system.
This creates a significant disadvantage for these students and limits their future professional opportunities.
The research shows a way to help us close this gap and improve the English skills of these learners: high-quality, long-term bilingual programs where Spanish-speaking students feel comfortable and accepted – and ultimately succeed in a classroom where their culture and language are taught and celebrated.
Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and being able to speak more than one language will soon become not just an asset but essential to the success of many people. Moreover, it truly shapes new perspectives on the world and creates future leaders who not only master another language, but have the social and cultural contexts in which people speak and interact, developing better understanding, more empathy and stronger interpersonal relationships.
With its downtown located just 15 miles from the US-Mexico border, San Diego is already rich in cultural diversity with nearly 40% of households speaking a language other than English as their primary home language and 22% of the population being native or fluent Spanish speakers.
San Diego is the ideal community to launch this effort, and the search volumes clearly show that the benefits for our students are immense. That’s why our schools can — and should — lead this vital initiative and set the bar high for all of California.