Westminster beats Garden Grove to have first Viet-English Dual Immersion program in state.


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Image from “School News”

It was a friendly competition between Garden Grove’s Bao Nguyen (just elected Mayor) and Westminster School Board Trustee Jamison Power to see whose school district could get the first Vietnamese-English dual immersion program in California, and it looks like Jamison has won the race!

Beginning this Fall, and beginning in only one kindergarten class but growing from there in the future,  Midway City’s DeMille Elementary School will teach all subjects in both English and Vietnamese – the first in this state, although Viet-English dual immersion classes are already in place in Oregon, Texas and Washington.

What’s dual-language immersion?  Coordinator Renae Bryant helpfully explains in the trade journal “School News”:

Dual language immersion integrates native English speaking and English language learning students in the same classroom and provides academic instruction through two languages, one of which is the primary language of each group (for example Vietnamese and English). The students learn a second language while they are learning content, which is very different from how most of us learned a second language. Many of us do not remember our second language, because we learned it out of context and in isolation (for example conjugating Spanish verbs).

Unlike bilingual education, the goals and research based benefits of dual language immersion are bilingualism, biliteracy, cultural proficiency, global citizenship, academic achievement in all subject areas, 21st century skills, increased family involvement and the Seal of Biliteracy Pathway Award attainment at third, fifth, and eighth grades (with the ultimate goal of the student graduating with the California Department of Education formally recognized Seal of Biliteracy on their high school diploma).

Jamison (left) proudly calls his district, which actually covers half of Westminster and parts of Garden Grove and northern Huntington Beach, one of the county’s “best kept secrets,” with “brand-new state of the art 21st century learning centers,” new labs, science buildings and gymnasiums in all its middle schools. 

Really?  One thing I do know about Westminster is that it is one of the brokest cities in the county.  But then I remember – Governor Brown’s funding formula for disbursing Prop 30 funding to school districts controversially favored the ones found to be more in need.  Yes, that was the ticket to all of these goodies.

Being the devil’s advocate I am, I wonder aloud why a Vietnamese-English dual immersion elementary school is necessary.  The OC has about twenty of them in Spanish-English, mostly in the south county (because, believe it or not, white parents down there want their kids to know Spanish!) and a few in Anaheim and Santa Ana (because, counterintuitively, many Hispanic parents want their kids to learn in English Only.)  Anyway it’s obvious that we have a constant influx of Spanish-speaking kids who can use dual-immersion, just as it’s very helpful for Americans to be able to speak Spanish.

But are either of those factors the case with Vietnamese?  Immigration from that country peaked in the 70s and 80s, most Viet kids have grown up here speaking English, and how useful is it really for an American kid to know Vietnamese?  All devils’ advocate questions you understand, for which I’m sure Jamison will have some answers.

Well, for one thing the community has been asking for this for a long time;  they want to preserve their language and culture in this new land while assimilating;  there are actually a lot of job opportunities for bilingual Viet-English speakers for the foreseeable future; and beyond all that, students who have mastered two or more languages (any languages) have dramatically better cognitive skills and higher grades. Sounds good to me!

Anyway the ultimate goal is to make DeMille a TRIlingual immersion school – the district is 40% hispanic and 40% Vietnamese.  Jamison believes that this whole program will be a very popular magnet drawing families from outside the district, which will in turn lead to more funding, which will in turn enable the hiring of faculty fluent in all three languages.  A city of Baos!

Jamison gives a lot of the credit for this leap forward to the first “minority” superintendent this district has ever had, the Korean-American Dr. Marian Kim-Phelps (above right.)  And one person who is really looking forward to a dual-immersion Viet-English Kindergarten experience is Jamison’s young half-Viet son Kieran (below) who at this point speaks more Vietnamese than English because he spends the days with his maternal grandparents.

The Orange Juice Blog looks forward to reporting on the success of this program in the Fall!  Vern over and out…


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.