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McKinley Elementary launches dual-language immersion program

Dual-language Immersion Program
Blake DeVine/KEYT
Kindergartners at McKinley Elementary School are being taught in both Spanish and English.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Kindergartners at McKinley Elementary have started their school year a little bit different than most kids on campus, learning both Spanish and English.

This dual-language immersion program is the first of its kind in over two decades within the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

As a result of its strong Spanish-speaking population, McKinley was selected as the site for this new school.

There are two kindergarten classes participating; with one-third of the incoming students speaking primarily Spanish, another third speaking primarily English and the final third bilingual in both languages.

Only a week into the program, McKinley kindergarten teacher Cynthia Esquivel has already started seeing results.

“I am already starting to see kids translate for one another, which is really cool to see,” she said.

The DLI program starts off with kindergartners spending 90 percent of their studies in Spanish and 10 percent in English.

By 5th grade, the Spanish and English instruction will increase to a 50 percent split. 

“We’re a whole school dual-language immersion model,” McKinley principal Elena Garcia-Yoshitomi said. “If a student were to attend this campus, they would be immersed in Spanish and eventually be biliterate in two languages.”

McKinley has created a new curriculum, purchased new books and educational materials for the DLI program.

“Sometimes you have students who only speak Spanish and sometimes you have students who only speak English,” Esquivel said. “If they weren’t in a program like this, they would never really speak to each other.”

The school district hopes that this allows kids to create connections while being exposed to different cultures.

“You will see a true bilingual-bicultural learning experience, where our students are connected culturally and linguistically,” Santa Barbara Unified assistant superintendent of elementary education Ana Escobedo said.

The unique educational experience also presents the opportunity to develop an important skill at a very young age.

“These students will be courageous, these students will be brave and these students will be college-bound,” Garcia-Yoshitomi concluded.

Six years down the road — when they graduate from sixth grade — these students will be able to continue their dual-language education within the district at Santa Barbara Junior High School.

To learn more about the DLI program, you can visit SB Unified’s website.

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Blake DeVine

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