Washougal to offer new dual-language option

School district plans for ‘immersive’ Spanish language classes in 2021-22

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The Washougal School District Administrative Offices are pictured Tuesday morning, April 14, 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

The Washougal School District wants to provide its students with increased opportunities to learn a second language and embrace cultural diversity.

Washougal school leaders are planning to implement a dual-language learning program for the 2021-22 school year, and have assembled a community task force to present a “master plan” for the program at a school board meeting later this year.

“This is another example of how we’re thriving and not just surviving at this time,” assistant superintendent Renae McMurray said during the Washougal school board’s Feb. 23 meeting. “(We’re) building new programs and really thinking about how we challenge all of our students and how we are providing students with opportunities to be competitive when they move on to college and careers after they leave the Washougal School District.”

Superintendent Mary Templeton said she has dreamed of starting a dual-language program for a few years.

“Immersion is the best method when you’re thinking about acquisition of language,” said Templeton, who taught high-school German classes for 15 years before moving into administrative positions. “I am passionate about this topic and super excited to see us move forward. This is certainly an ambitious undertaking, but one that we have committed to (in order) to move our district forward. We believe that having a dual language program on our pallet of offerings is only going to attract more students to the Washougal community.”

Dual language is a form of education in which students are taught literacy and content in two languages simultaneously. Programs foster bilingualism, biliteracy, enhanced awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity, and high levels of academic achievement, according to McMurrray.

“The program structure that we’re looking at is two-way immersion,” she said. “What that means is that we’d have both students who are native Spanish speakers and native English speakers in the same classroom, and instruction in the core content areas is taught in both English and Spanish.”

The district is favoring a “90-10” model, in which students receive 90 percent of their daily instruction in Spanish as kindergartners and first-graders, and gradually receive more English instruction until they reach a 50-50 split as fifth-graders.

“Research indicates that 90-10 is actually a more effective model, and that students in the 90-10 model achieve higher rates,” McMurray said. “The great thing about the dual language program is that not only English language learners are more successful, but all students are more successful. They’re challenged, and that’s going to make their results improve.”

The task force includes members of five local Spanish-speaking families; Sandy Renner, the district’s liaison to Washougal’s Latino community; and several teachers and other district employees.

“We believe that a dual-language program in the Washougal School District will promote high academic achievement for all students and close the opportunity gap; achieve bilingualism and biliteracy for participating students; increase culturally responsive teaching; and foster cross-cultural understanding, celebrate and elevate the status of all students and their families,” the task force members said in a statement.

Chris Reykdal, Washington’s superintendent for public instruction, has set a goal for every school district in the state to have a dual-language program by 2030.

“I am really excited to be (part of) one of the districts in southwest Washington that is leading the charge on this,” Washougal school board member Donna Sinclair said during the Feb. 23 meeting. “One of the best things I ever did was to take four years of Spanish in high school and spend time in Mexico immersed in the language and take it in college. I can still speak Spanish, although not well. But because (I learned) early enough, I have retained it. I really think it was helpful also from a socio-cultural perspective.”