Dual-Language Immersion

By Esposito, Jennifer | District Administration, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Dual-Language Immersion


Esposito, Jennifer, District Administration


Seattle's students are called "scholars" by the district's administration. And to complement the compliment, the district's enrollment guide features this mission statement by Superintendent Raj Manhas: that "every student--regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background--will graduate and be fully prepared to lead a successful life." But accomplishing that in a system as culturally vast as Seattle's seems nearly unattainable: Of its near 47,000 students, 6,000 are bilingual. And of that, 121 different languages are registered. In the course of a day, says Executive Director of Student Services Michelle Corker-Curry, you could hear, read, plan for, or talk about 90 of them.

So Seattle Public Schools created a unique approach to caring for its multi-language population. For starters, most materials for students and parents are translated in the district's top-10 languages: from Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, to Tigrinya, spoken in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Israel. And beyond dual-language instruction--which Seattle sports at three of its sites--Seattle created a culturally responsive teaching model that helps students and those who teach them learn to better communicate with cultures not their own.

Winds of change: Until 2003, Seattle suffered from severe multicultural issues and a widening achievement gap. With a high Latino population that the district wanted to serve and a volatile East African community, "we just got in a room and started talking about what we need[ed]," says Corker-Curry. The result: a systemwide move toward "cultural competency," using a multi-pronged approach to making its vast population comfortable with one another.

The multi-pronged approach: Bilingual Orientation Centers serve students new to the United States and help them learn English quickly; a Bilingual Family Center helps parents learn about enrollment, school transportation, and various school activities. Classes on world languages and cultures and mandated cultural responsibility classes for staff such as "Thanksgiving: A Native American Perspective," all round out Seattle's comprehensive approach to whole-globe learning. …

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