Washington DC School District Takes Aim at Language and Cultural Education

Washington D.C.’s Language Access Act

In 2004, the Washington D.C. enacted the Language Access Act. The Act was created in order to grant greater access to and participation in public schools and other public services for those residents that have limited or no English proficiency. The Act is designed to address four crucial areas of language use and access to public services. These four areas are: the need for and the offering of oral language services; providing of written translation of key documents into other languages that have populations constitutes 3% or 500 individuals, whichever is less, of the population served or encountered, or likely to be served or encountered; establishment of language access plans that best services these populations; and finally creating language access coordination. The District of Columbia is focusing at this time on these five languages; Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Amharic. As a public service the Washington D.C. School District has also made steps to provide adjustments in its language and cultural education programs.

Washington D.C. School’s Diverse Population

Washington D.C. Schools are composed of one hundred sixty-seven schools and special learning centers. The breakdown of Washington D.C. Schools includes: one hundred one elementary schools, eleven middle schools, nine junior high schools, twenty high schools, six educational centers and twenty specialty schools. These schools educate nearly sixty-six thousand students with the majority made up of 39,161 elementary school students. Washington D.C. Schools have a rich diverse student population with more than one hundred twelve different foreign languages that represent one hundred thirty-eight different nationalities.

Out of these students almost 13% can be said to belong to a language minority group and another 8% can be classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP) or Non English Proficient (LEP/NEP) learners. The ethnic breakdown of the Washington D.C. School District includes nearly 85% African Americans, 10% Hispanics, 4% Whites, around 1% Asian Americans. In an effort to address the needs of this student population Washington D.C. Schools center their attention on the younger learners. Washington D.C. Schools operates sixty-nine Head Start programs aimed at pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. It also runs six Montessori programs. It is now aiming at improving its language programs. Presently, Washington D.C. Schools operate eight two-way full immersion Spanish/English.

Implementing New Two-Way Language Immersion Programs

The Shepherd Elementary School, one Washington D.C. School, is working to develop new two-way language immersion programs for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. The school is seeking to enroll pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students who speak French, Spanish or other languages in an effort to create new immersion programs. The programs will begin in late August, so Washington D.C. Schools are asking for immediate responses for those parents interested in the program. Right now the plan is for students to receive either Spanish-English or French-English content taught by fluent English and target language teachers. The dual language program is connected to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program that begins in all grades in late August, 2006.

As part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program students also receive education in culture and cultural diversity which includes: Children develop an understanding of self within a community. Begin to identify similarities and differences among people (e.g., gender, race, culture, language, abilities); demonstrate an emerging respect for culture and ethnicity. (Will learn some words of another language. Tastes a snack that a classmate from another culture brings to school.); and demonstrate emerging awareness and respect for abilities. (Listens to a story about a child with a disability. Includes children with disabilities in play.)

Ludivina Leveto

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