In San Luis Obispo County, there's one school that offers a two-way immersion program, where students receive an education in English and in Spanish. Pacheco Elementary School has been a dual-immersion school for 23 years, and San Luis Coastal Unified School District officials think it might be time to start a second such program.
Rick Mayfield, former principal of Pacheco Elementary and current director of learning and achievement for San Luis Coastal, said Pacheco had 80 applicants for 16 spots last March during open enrollment.
"We have 160 students from the coast who currently attend Pacheco and another 50 on the current waiting list to attend," Mayfield said. "There's a lot of kids coming into town every day from the coast, riding the bus, who want to participate in this particular program."
San Luis Coastal is currently proposing to fill the gap by phasing in a dual-immersion program at Baywood Elementary School. The program would start with the kindergarten class in the fall of 2020-21 and continue to add a grade level each year.
He said that although the district is looking at Baywood as the site of the program's implementation, it's not set in stone. But he does feel it makes sense for the program to be there, he said.
"The largest number of students that are attending Pacheco are from Baywood, and the largest number of recent applicants to attend are from Baywood," Mayfield said.
Another benefit, he said, is that Baywood recently welcomed a new principal, Lisa Stephens, this academic school year. Stephens taught at Pacheco for 11 years and spent two years doing program development when the school transitioned its model from the 50/50 model to 90/10. In the 90/10 model, students learn to read, write, and speak in 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English during the kindergarten year. English is introduced more and more over the years until the students are taught 50 percent of the time in English and 50 percent in Spanish.
Stephens believes that if Baywood were to phase in the program, it would be an academic boost for the students now and in their futures.
"I just think there are so many benefits of learning in two languages when you're young. There are cognitive benefits of learning two languages; it broadens educational and career opportunities down the road. When you're learning a language at 5, you're a sponge and you pick it up so easily," she said.
Stephens said another benefit is eliminating the need for students to travel in order to receive this specific education.
"I would love to offer a program here in town where we're keeping our students closer to home and in their communities," she said. "I think the community at Baywood is amazing, tight, and a close community. My message is that it's going to remain that way no matter if we're speaking in two languages or one."
While there's been positive feedback from parents, Stephens said there have been concerns about the proposed change.
The tight-knit community that she mentioned is the reason that Baywood parent Jennifer Miller has mixed feelings about the proposed program. Miller has two children who attend Baywood currently and a 2-year-old who could benefit from the program by the time it would be implemented, if approved by the district.
She said she believes being bilingual is an asset—as is the learned culture that comes along with it.
"It's a really important element, and I really like how Pacheco incorporates acceptance of different cultures and celebrates different cultures. It changes the way you view the world, and you're a better global citizen because of it," Miller said.
But she worries about her school community, the teachers who have been there 10-plus years, and the connections made between parents and teachers.
"The prospect of potentially losing those teachers is just really sad," she said. "I just hope that the district is able to do it in a way with integrity and support the teachers that we're not able to keep."
Mayfield said there would be a change in personnel at the school if the program were to be phased in.
"Nobody loses their jobs, but some people will have to move to other schools to bring in bilingual teachers. But we would do that in a way that is smooth and works for both the teachers and the school," Mayfield said.
Dawn Addis, a Morro Bay City Council member and SLO Women's March cofounder, enrolled her two sons at Pacheco. Although Addis works for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, she spoke with New Times as a parent.
When Addis was in middle school, she decided she wanted to be a teacher. At the time, she said she was told that learning Spanish would benefit her career because of the state's demographics.
"When I had my own kids, I wanted to be able to not just give them that gift, but also have them be able to connect with other people from other places," she said. "I think it's a really important skill to be able to connect across cultures."
The discussion of the proposed dual-immersion program will continue at a public May 21 district board meeting. Δ
Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.