Perspective | Dare County Schools and Participate Learning launch dual language programs

For the 2019-2020 school year, Dare County launched dual language programs across all of their elementary schools, becoming the first district in North Carolina to make the opportunity available to all students. Participate Learning supplies the native-language cultural exchange teachers as well as ongoing support for implementation, professional development, and curriculum.

The district-wide launch took place during the 2019-20 school year after the first successful year of dual language programming at four elementary schools. The impetus behind a district-wide rollout was driven by many factors, including the success of the current programs.

“Dare County Schools sought input from stakeholders before the implementation of the dual-language program,” states John Farrelly, Dare County Schools Superintendent. “We held multiple parent and staff sessions where we shared research illustrating the academic benefits of children becoming bilingual. In addition to this benefit, we shared the impact of becoming bilingual in today’s society. We chose to implement Spanish Dual Language Immersion in Dare County because stakeholders found value in having this opportunity available to their children.”

“Both students and parents love the program,” says Jodie Mitchum, Principal of First Flight Elementary. “Students say it is fun all day long and parents rave over the positivity of our teachers and how much growth and learning they have seen in their children.”

Parents and the community at large supported expanding the programs to provide equitable access for all students. There is significant research that shows the academic benefits of a bilingual brain, as well as the socioeconomic benefits of more globally aware students. The Dare County Schools administration believes it must prepare its students and citizens to collaborate and compete in a global economy.

Adrienne Palma, principal of Nags Head Elementary, notes that “students are excited, enthusiastic about learning, and proud of themselves.”

“I’ve seen increased confidence as their understanding of the target language improves,” says Greg Florence, principal of Kitty Hawk Elementary. “Because of the nature of the instruction and organization or routines and procedures, student behavior seems to be better than average in our dual language classrooms.”

Dare County Schools partners with Participate Learning to help implement and support their dual language programs. “Participate Learning offers a high-quality applicant pool for bilingual positions that are critical to program success. They also support teachers with virtual and in-person coaching,” says Johanna Parker, director of innovation at Dare County Schools.

A key success factor in district-wide adoption was ensuring that all stakeholders were supportive of the dual language programming from the start. Together, Dare County Schools and Participate Learning worked to address concerns about how parents can continue to provide support at home even in a second language, any potential impact on existing teachers, and the logistics of converting schools to dual language.

As the knowledge of the program grows, “We find more and more staff are interested in our adult Spanish classes in order to better communicate with students, parents and our international staff,” says Sandy Kinzel, assistant superintendent of human resources.

“Other positives have been the bridging of cultures,” says Parker. “We have relatively high populations of Hispanic families who live in various areas of our district. With the implementation of the dual language immersion program, we see an increased involvement of our Spanish speaking families. Our schools are more sensitive to and consistent in providing language support and school communications in both English and Spanish.”

“It’s hard to understate the significance of this approach,” remarks Participate Learning CEO David Young. “It shines a light on Dare County Schools, which is leading the way in providing amazing learning opportunities for all children, not just the privileged few. We believe that global education is a catalyst for improving lives and preparing students to be highly-engaged contributors in a connected, multilingual world.”

Heather Hindin is a former classroom teacher and educational nonprofit director, focusing on students in grades K-12. She has dedicated her career to ensuring that all students have the tools and resources to achieve their potential, regardless of background or experiences.

K-12 Perspective