SANTA MARIA, Calif. - 59 kindergartners were the first to start in a Dual Language Immersion Program when it launched at Jimenez Elementary School in Santa Maria in 2015. The very first of it's kind in the city.
Miles Restrepo was one of those kids.
"Do you want me to tell you in English or Spanish?" Miles asked as he showed his work posted around the classroom.
His father, Alberto, who teaches a Race Relations course at Hancock College, did his research on the benefits of Dual Immersion programs and jumped on the opportunity.
"We knew programs like this were not only successful in learning languages, but academically and cognitively and even in bridging the cultural gap." Alberto said.
Dual Immersion is different than Bilingual Education. In a Dual Immersion program the children are fully immersed in Spanish, in all subjects, for most of the day.
For example, kindergarten and first graders are taught in Spanish 90 percent of the day, English 10 percent. Second grade moves to 80/20, until 5th grade when they are taught 50/50 in Spanish and English.
First grade teacher Gloria Lopez left the school where she'd been teaching for 15 years to join the Dual Immersion program at Jimenez.
"Knowing the gifts being bilingual has given me the opportunities i packed up and didn't have a second thought about it." Lopez said.
Lopez says it's a challenge, but she and the other Dual Immersion teachers see it as well worth it for the future they say these kids will have. The gift of being bilingual and biliterate.
"I think as people get more informed as to what it is, it's not just Spanish kids learning Spanish, it's a whole community learning another language and just giving them that financial that global advantage in teaching two languages." Lopez said.
But despite Santa Maria having the largest number of Spanish speaking residents on the Central Coast, and a 70 percent Latino population, getting a Dual Immersion program started here wasn't easy.
After meeting a lot of resistance, several years of hard work from a task force of parents, teachers, and administrators paid off. And the Santa Maria-Bonita school district made a commitment for the program to succeed.
"When these kids get to high school they are ready for them because their linguistic and writing and abilities in both languages will be much higher." Lopez said.
The Dual Immersion program is in it's second year, and it's funded just like all other classrooms and programs in the district.
Currently there are two kindergarten and two first grade classes. The breakdown in the classroom is 10 Spanish only students, 10 English only students and 10 bilingual students.
"Those bilingual kids, they're the link. I'll say okay can you tell him what I said and they are the link. So they are united in that sense and they are united in what they share." Lopez said.
"You have the English only kids and the English learners and the way they work together, the way they work together is absolutely neat to see." Alberto Restrepo said.
There are 50 thousand Dual Immersion programs across the country, and research shows they are exceeding their goals of improving brain development, offering financial and occupational advantages. As well as being beneficial to the community.
"Language bridges people, just the acceptance, the tolerance." Lopez said.
"A year and a half into this program it has at at least for me completely exceeded my expectations." Alberto said.
If you're interested in the Dual Immersion program at Jimenez Elementary School, informational meetings are taking place at 6pm onMarch 22nd and April 26th at the Souza Center on 708 Miller Street in Santa Maria. Space is limited.