By Amaya Garcia and Conor P. Williams, New America Education, October 2015

“On a muggy evening in early June a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, a group of parents and community advocates is gathered in the gym of a local school to learn about the educational benefits of bilingualism. They sit in awe as a bilingual fourth-grade student, enrolled in one of the city’s dual immersion programs, speaks (first in Spanish and then English) about why learning a second language is so useful:

Primero, aprendiendo un segundo idioma puede ayudarte tener conversaciones con personas que no hablan su idioma nativo. Segundo, aprendiendo otro idioma, como el Español, puede ayudarte con aprender otros lenguajes similares. Tercero, si sabes más de uno idioma puedes ir a muchos países y hablar esa idioma. Cuarto, saber idiomas puede ayudar su con dencia…Y más importante que todo si hablas más de una idioma su cerebro puede procesar cosas más buenas y rápida y también es más desarrollada. […]

The event was part of a grassroots effort—led by the DC Language Immersion Project—calling for the systemic expansion of dual immersion programs in the District of Columbia. The Project aims to raise awareness of the economic, educational, and cognitive benefits of bilingualism in an effort to get more schools across the city implement dual immersion programs.

Currently, there are 15 dual immersion programs in the city, spanning eight DCPS schools (all offer Spanish as the partner language) and seven public charter schools (which offer Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, and French programs). Demand for these programs is extremely high—the waiting list for the 32 three-year-old pre-K slots at Mundo Verde Public Charter School (a Spanish/English dual immersion school) tops 448—and many parents are eager for their children to reap the so-called “bilingual advantage.”

The DC Language Immersion Project aims to broaden access to these programs for children living east of the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8 of the city. As a recent National Research Council report noted, the Anacostia River has historically served as a dividing line between the city’s wealthy and low-income residents: […]

According to Vanessa Bertelli, co-founder of the DC Language Immersion Project, the current distribution of dual immersion programs is problematic, since “these programs are currently concentrated in Northwest D.C. And therefore are not a viable option for people East of the [Anacostia] River.”  That means that families living in other parts of the city who wish to access these programs “must have the resources or the time to travel across the District four times a day.”

Read the full report here.