By Conor Williams, New America Ed, February 27, 2015
D.C.’s dynamism as a local community was on full display earlier this week at a panel event hosted by the DC Language Immersion Project. The discussion, titled “Economic and Workforce Development Impacts of Language Immersion,” was the second in a series of local events designed to build a groundswell of support for multilingualism in D.C.’s public schools. National leaders, like Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) Libia Gil, joined state leaders, like Lynn Fulton-Archer, one of the specialists coordinating Delaware’s statewide World Language Immersion program, to discuss promising policies for making American education more linguistically diverse.
After the event, DC Language Immersion Project co-founder Vanessa Bertelli explained that the group formed in response to access gaps when it comes to D.C.’s existing public dual-immersion programs. “These programs are currently concentrated in Northwest D.C.,” she said, “And therefore are not a viable option for people East of the [Anacostia] River.” That is, most of these programs are currently flourishing in places that are most easily accessible to D.C.’s wealthier families, which means that folks from D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods can only attend if they “have the resources or the time to travel across the District four times a day.”
Before starting the group, Bertelli had been part of earlier efforts to convince her neighborhood school’s leaders to include Spanish immersion as part of their public pre-K program. They “surveyed current and prospective parents, came up with implementation plans, engaged with all levels of school administration, and testified at public hearings, but it was not sufficient…[We] realized that unless there is a strategic, systemic plan for expanding immersion across the District, D.C. is not going to be able to seize this opportunity.” Specifically, she says, D.C. stakeholders should think of “immersion as one of the elements in a comprehensive, long-term plan to positioning themselves economically as global competitors.”
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