- 1 comment
Dual Language Immersion: Origin Story
The Salt Lake Tribune ran a great article full of praise for Utah’s Dual Language Immersion program, but they didn’t mention how it came about, who was involved, and the details of the evolving legislation that make this program what it is today. We can help fill in those blanks.
Utah’s Dual Language Immersion program is certainly worth bragging about. We have bright students and capable teachers leading the nation in this unique program. We’re also pleased to point out that the legislation was initiated by one of our own, Senator Howard Stephenson, as the architect and driving force behind this successful program. He had strong support from Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. and House sponsors Representative Greg Hughes and Representative Brad Last.
In the year 2000 Senator Stephenson first visited China to deliver a keynote address to leading college students from Russia, China and the United States. He discovered over the course of four days of the conference that Chinese students were head and shoulders above the students from the other countries. According to Stephenson, the Chinese students were more focused on the future, more conversant on meaningful topics, and many spoke and wrote English better than even the American students.
On his plane ride home, Senator Stephenson was concerned about America’s future in contrast with these Chinese students who were so well prepared for a global market. Senator Stephenson eventually sponsored a bill focused on teaching critical languages in high school. The U.S. State and Defense Departments identify critical languages for the economic future and security of our nation. His 2007 bill, SB 80 Education Reform-Critical Languages Program created the program and provided for a small stipend for any high school willing to offer a critical language. The program was a success.
Gregg Roberts, the world language specialist at the Utah State Office of Education, collaborated with Senator Stephenson the following year to pass SB 41 International Education Initiative-Critical Languages Program, which expanded the initial critical languages program to a dual language immersion program starting as early as kindergarten in select schools and first grade in most participating schools. The program has grown every year since, adding about 25 new schools per year.
Today nearly 30,000 students at 138 schools throughout Utah have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Spanish, Chinese, French, German and Portuguese. Students start as early as first grade learning math and science in a new language. The students are prepared to pass an AP Language test by 9th grade, a test more commonly taken by 11th and 12th graders. After the students pass the AP test they have the opportunity to take ‘bridge’ courses in the second language that roughly equate to 3000 level language courses at our State universities.
Regularly since the program’s inception, the Legislature has updated legislation and funding to enhance the program. This past session, Senator Stephenson and Representative Eric Hutchings sponsored SB 152 Accelerated Foreign Language Course Amendments which provides funding for development of the college-level concurrent enrollment courses. Participating students will now have the opportunity to begin college only two courses shy of a language minor.
Now you know the full story and you can go brag about Utah’s sweet Dual Immersion program to your out-of-state friends.
Notes and Links:
It turns out, we’re not the only ones who think Utah’s Dual Language Immersion Program is worth talking about.
- The Salt Lake Tribune – mentioned above – ran a nice story.
- KSL reported on the high demand by Utah students for dual immersion classes throughout high school.
- The Boston Globe ran articles about how Massachusetts would do well to follow Utah’s example.
- American Radio Works broadcast a major groundbreaking story about the latest brain research and showcased Utah’s Dual Language Immersion as something which enhances brain activity in ways that result in significantly better academic scores in all subjects, not just the language being learned, and produces better-behaved kids. The reporters take listeners on a visit to Washington School District’s Chinese Dual Immersion classrooms.
- Harvard Law’s “One Nation Indivisible” series showcased Wasatch School District as a model of how a diverse community of White Mormons and Hispanic Catholics came together in unity through their children’s involvement in the Spanish Dual Language Immersion program, available in every elementary school.
- In her recent book, Integration Nation, Susan E. Eaton uses Utah as her first example of how policymakers and communities across the nation are challenging America’s xenophobic impulses by welcoming immigrants and refugees and embracing the foreign-born as they become integral members of their new communities. Utah’s Dual Language Immersion program is shown as one of a number of tools Utah employs to integrate immigrants in our increasingly diverse culture. The final paragraph of the book quotes Senator Howard Stephenson, “Look, our state has changed. . . If you celebrate that, if you give our young people a place to blossom and grow. . . and create an opportunity for all of us to integrate and to each come over to the other’s perspective a little bit, how can that not be good for everyone?”
- BBC World ran an article in Spanish about the program which was reprinted in Spain, Argentina, Peru and Chile.
- In 2013, the New York Times reported on the intent of the program to prepare students for a global market.