Parents who want their children to learn two languages right from the start are lining up for an innovative bilingual program scheduled to begin this fall at Montalvo Elementary School in Ventura. It is designed to make students fluent in both English and Spanish by the time they finish fifth grade.

We applaud this recognition that kids who come from Spanish-speaking families are not the only Ventura County residents who would benefit from becoming fluent in a second language.

In much of the world, speaking two, three or more languages is routine for people at all income levels. Language skills easily mastered by most children are more challenging for adults to learn.

Although there are only a few such programs in Ventura County, there are more than 100 statewide. If this one proves successful, it may be duplicated in other local school districts.

The program, to be funded by a five-year federal grant, is called dual immersion because students learn their native language as well as a second language. It depends on an equal number of children who speak English and those who speak Spanish. Montalvo’s program will start with two kindergarten classes, each with 10 native English speakers and 10 Spanish speakers.

>From kindergarten through second grade, the students will be taught mainly in Spanish. From third through fifth grade, students will receive half of their instruction in Spanish and half in English. By the time they graduate from the K-5 school, they will be able to read, write and speak in both languages, educators say.

Qualified bilingual instructors will teach the classes, and each year, the school will add one grade until the program extends through fifth grade.

Two-way immersion programs generally have received support from both sides of the debate over bilingual education because they are viewed as an enrichment opportunity for all students. The state Board of Education allowed a few schools to continue their dual-immersion classes after Proposition 227 led to a reduction in bilingual education in California.

Any student entering kindergarten in the Ventura Unified School District is eligible to attend, but students from the Montalvo area will be given first priority. For information, call 641-5450.

Many factors have driven the debate over bilingual education. Two points on which everyone should be able to agree are that speaking more than one language is a good thing–even more important in the 21st century than in the 20th–and that the best time to learn is as early as possible.

In this spirit, we wish success to the students and teachers of the Montalvo dual-immersion program and encourage the leaders of other local districts to watch closely.

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