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Bilingual immersion students share learning experiences
Immersion pic3
Dutcher Middle School Students dressed as traditional Japanese women during a skit for the Night of Inspiration event held on Thursday. - photo by ANDREA GOODWIN / The Journal

Students in the Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program at Dutcher Middle School spent Thursday night showing off. Most of the students in the program have been studying in English and Spanish since they were in kindergarten or first grade. On Thursday they took the opportunity to showcase what they have learned and to persuade younger students that the immersion program pays off.

The Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program started in the Turlock Unified School District 16 years ago, according to Kea Willett, director of English Learner Programs for Turlock Unified School District. Initially, it was a few small groups of students who attended classes taught in both English and Spanish. Last year TUSD started an immersion magnet school at Osborn Elementary, where every class is taught in both English and Spanish starting at the kindergarten level. Dutcher Middle School has an immersion program where former Osborn students can continue their bilingual education.

“The program was designed to be K through 8, and we really encourage parents and students to continue immersion in middle school. But it is optional,” Willett said.

Noche De Inspiracion, a Night of Inspiration, is a chance for older students to show what they have learned through bilingual immersion. Students in fifth through eighth grade performed skits, read poetry, played music and presented class projects from the dual immersion program. Willett said that Noche De Inspiracion is an opportunity to validate the effort that students put into the immersion program.

“Sometimes students feel like their homework is harder because they have to do it in two languages. As they get older they might think it would be easier to go with English-only instruction. But there are benefits to staying in the immersion program from (kindergarten) through eighth grade,” Willett said.

Those benefits, according to Willett, include readiness for AP Spanish classes in high school. Students who do well in AP Spanish Language Arts can take the AP test to receive college credits.

“We are looking post high school with two-way immersion. We tell parents that this is a pathway that can lead to college options,” Willett said.

Two former students from the TWBI program spoke to current students about their experience with the immersion program.

“The ability to communicate in more than one language has opened up job opportunities for these two former students. They also have both had the opportunity to study in other countries” Willett said.

TUSD’s English Learner Resource Office hopes to make Noche De Inspiracion a yearly event.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.