Patrick Henry Elementary School celebrated Long Beach's second annual Dual Immersion Day on June 1 alongside Mayor Robert Garcia and Long Beach Unified School District officials.

"What I want to share with all of you ... you should be very proud that you know both Spanish and English," Garcia said during his address to Henry Elementary school students and faculty last Thursday. "They are two very beautiful languages."

Henry Elementary first introduced their dual immersion pilot courses in 1989, immersing its students in a 90-10 Spanish and English-language learning program in the classroom, beginning with kindergarten. The program has helped students become proficient in both Spanish and English languages.

The 90-10 model means that students are taught in Spanish 90% of the time and in English the remaining 10%. 

Marc Bonner, Henry Elementary alumnus and current director of the Boy Scouts in Long Beach, attributes learning the Spanish language to his former elementary school.

"In Long Beach, I get to interact with plenty of students and families," Bonner said. "And I am a more marketable employee."

Marisol Barajas, a representative from state Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell's office also emphasized the importance of being able to communicate in Spanish in government offices.

"I am the only one in my office who speaks Spanish," she said. "What does that mean? It means we need more Spanish speakers."

The elementary school originally offered its dual language immersion program for kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms. In 2016, the school moved its sixth through eighth grade classrooms to Keller Middle School. The move created room to admit more students to the elementary school. 

Currently, both Keller and Henry are the only two schools in the district to have 100% of its students enrolled in bilingual programs, although other schools in the district offer 50-50 (50% English, 50% Spanish) variations of the program including Lafayette, Webster and Willard Elementary school as well as a program at Wilson High School.

"Kids who speak two or more languages excel further," Dr. Feliza Ortiz-Licon, California State Board of Education member, said. 

Ortiz-Licon added that learning another language helps bridge cultural differences and diversify the city of Long Beach.

"We want to unify our city," she said. "I don't think it was cool to speak Spanish when I was growing up, but I definitely think that has changed."

The teachers at the school are fluent in both Spanish and English, and many received their training through the Dual Language Development program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).

Student teaching programs are also available within the district, including at Henry Elementary, according to Dr. Paul Boyd-Batstone, CSULB chair of the Department of Teacher Education.

"Cal State Long Beach was the first to send student teachers," he said. "It's important for them to have direct field experience."

Along with community leaders praising the program and students showing off their Spanish-speaking know-how, Henry Elementary School principal, David Komatz said that the school has a waiting list. Much like the high schools in the district, parents can apply for their children to attend the elementary school, regardless of their zip code.

"You can see how diverse the Eastside is because these kids come from different area codes," he said.

For more information, visit PatrickHenryFoundation.org, or visit their Facebook at facebook.com/PatrickHenryDualImmersion.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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