Dual Language Instruction at MUSD: the beginning

There was a great deal of excitement and anticipation on the bus as the Madera delegation headed out to San Jose’s River Glen Elementary School to meet with Principal Tracy Young and visit classrooms in the first Dual Language Instruction (DLI) School in California. The group wanted to see a DLI school, firsthand, where students not only learn to read, write, think and speak in two languages, but are also excellent students who outperform other students academically.

Principal Young greeted and ushered the Madera delegation into a meeting room. “At River Glen, starting in kindergarten, we teach English and Spanish to our students as they learn all their subjects. They may learn math in Spanish and Science in English and so on. But what is amazing is the challenge of studying in two languages just makes students more intelligent”. Principal Young showed slides of MRIs, proving scientifically that DLI increases cognitive development. “Our students are high performers in English and Spanish, and some of our 7th and 8th graders pass the high school AP Spanish test and obtain the Medical or Legal Translation Certificates. Some are taking Spanish Lit classes at San Jose State University. Also, we have high attendance and virtually no expulsions. Students want to come to school because they have fun and they feel good about themselves when they succeed. I highly recommend this model. The students deserve the best we can give them”. Principal Young’s newest problem is that she cannot accommodate an ever growing waiting list of students.

The Madera group observed: a 2nd grade Caucasian boy speaking fluent Spanish with no accent, a 4th grade African American girl reading a story about the California Gold Rush in flawless Spanish, and a group of 7th graders discussing modern day China with the insights and observations of college students. It was a true revelation. The group was convinced we needed to build a DLI program in Madera.

In March 2015, at a California Association for Bilingual Education Conference, DELAC (District English Learner Advisory Committee) parents, Trustees Galvez, Velarde and Garibay visited DLI schools in San Diego and came back with the same enthusiasm, with Trustee Velarde proposing that MUSD formally direct staff to begin the work of bringing a DLI program to Madera.

On June 13, 2015 Madera held its first DLI Conference at Pershing Elementary, with over 200 people in attendance: MUSD Trustees, community members, parents and educators. At the end of the conference, all the attendees were convinced. Dozens of parents signed a petition asking the MUSD Trustees to start a DLI program. The momentum was accelerating.

The following year, district staff conducted deeper research on the Dual Language Instruction program options, attended professional development workshops, and provided District staff and board members with more visits to Dual Language Instruction schools in the Central Valley.  In May 2016, the Madera Unified School Board designed Trustee Ed McIntyre to serve as the Board Liaison for the Dual Language Program and Janet Grossnicklaus, as the DLI Project Leader, tasked to establish an implementation timeline for launch in August 2017.

Based on an extensive body of research, Director Grossnicklaus and staff recommended the district move forward with the implementation of a school-wide 90/10 DLI program model with classes reflecting of a 50 / 50 composition of Spanish dominant/English dominant students. This is the most challenging model to implement, but research and data have shown that students who are in DLI schools with the 90 / 10 50 / 50 schoolwide model greatly outperform all other students academically, including high performing affluent school districts.

In the early fall of 2016, the Governing Board selected Madison Elementary as the DLI program’s first site. Over 30 informational meetings were held at 14 schools throughout the community of Madera, during the 2016-2017 school year, to inform parents about the benefits of DLI programs and the district’s intention to launch it in August 2017 for Kindergarten students. Babatunde Ilori, Executive Director of Accountability and Communications implemented a comprehensive marketing plan: print and media projects, advertisement, direct mail, a DLI website, etc. A survey was developed to gauge parental interest. Hundreds of parents attended meetings and over 250 applications were taken.

MUSD contracted with two leading experts in the field of Two Way & Dual Language Education Programs. MUSD also entered into a multi-year agreement with Rosa Molina, the founding principal of River Glen School in San Jose, to provide ongoing training and support to ensure the implementation of a high quality DLI instructional program.

The Dual Language Instruction (DLI) program at Madison Elementary school opened its doors on August 14, 2017 to 118 Kindergarten students. As these five DLI classrooms of students matriculate each year, an additional grade level will be added to the DLI program, eventually expanding to a school-wide K-6 model.

The community owes a debt of gratitude to Alma De Luna and Janet Grossnicklaus, two local outstanding educators who successfully drove the implementation of the MUSD DLI program to fruition.


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