The Jefferson County 509-J School District is introducing a dual language program into its schools.
For students who enroll, that means learning would be 50% in English, and 50% in Spanish.
The program seeks to target a child’s ability to pick up languages quicker than at an older age, and set up Central Oregon kids with more tools to succeed in a culturally diverse world.
“I am just blown away by how much kids can learn at a young age especially with a language,” said Jinnell Lewis, a Madras mom.
Lewis is no stranger to being bilingual.
“I work in the medical field here, and I speak Spanish pretty fluently, so I use it in work almost every day with my patients,” Lewis said.
When the idea of a dual-language program for the Jefferson School District was introduced, she wanted her two young kids to have the opportunity to learn.
“The younger you start, the better the opportunities for knowing that language,” Lewis said.
“The goal of a dual language program is for our students to be bilingual, biliterate, to have high academic achievement, and compete in the global economy and to also have socio-cultural competencies,” said Laura Contreras Weiss the Dual Language Planning Principal for Jefferson County School District.
Dual language programs are already used in other school districts like Bend-La Pine Schools, where students in the first bilingual class are now juniors in high school.
“They can all read and write at a high academic level. When they graduate, they will be ready if they intend to continue studying in English or Spanish, they can go to University level classes in either language and do just fine or go study at the college level in another country as well,” said Kinsey Martin the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Bend-La Pine Schools.
Classes of all subjects would be taught in a combination of Spanish and English, with cultural lessons also being a focus of the program.
Jefferson County School District officials believe this will further unify students throughout the community.
“A third of our students are native Spanish speakers or of Latinx descent, a third of our students are native English speakers, and we also have a third of our students that identify as Native American. So thinking of that unique dynamic, why not?” Contreras Weiss said.
“I think it’s going to be really unifying for everyone to have an opportunity to participate in a program like this,” Lewis said.
Laura Contreras Weiss has 16 years of experience implementing a similar dual language program in the Springfield School District before moving to Jefferson County.
The district is still undecided where and what grade the program will begin at, but officials told me the program will start with younger kids and build their language skills as they advance through school.