The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District was honored as an exemplary program in the 2023 School Leader Awards for its “Dual Language Immersion Program.” The program is designed for K-5 students.

The district offers two programs: Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. At the K-3 level, Mandarin Chinese is offered at Maurice Hawk Elementary School and Spanish is offered at Dutch Neck Elementary School. At the fourth- and fifth-grade level, both Spanish and Chinese are offered at Village Elementary School.

All WW-P students are eligible to apply for the program prior to the start of kindergarten, with the district welcoming a robust blend of new language learners and students who already speak the language in the dual language immersion kindergarten program each fall.

The mission of the DLI program is to support students as they learn core academic content and skills while learning both English and the target language. The program seeks to foster strong intercultural competence in every learner, with the district encouraging students to appreciate other cultures and develop a deeper understanding of their own cultures – all while learning how to communicate effectively across global communities.

“WW-P’s Dual Language Immersion Program was born as an actionable program from one of our district’s four strategic goals, ‘Embracing a rapidly changing world, we will empower learners to assume active roles in their communities, to face and engage global challenges and to contribute proactively toward a more peaceful, just, inclusive, and secure world,’” said Dr. David Aderhold, superintendent of schools. “To see the program grow from four kindergarten classrooms to six grade levels and over 530 students speaks to the staff and community’s belief in our strategic goal work guiding our school and classroom practice.”

Dr. Ashley Warren, WW-P’s supervisor of world languages and dual language immersion, said the program welcomed its first four classes of kindergarten dual language immersion students in September 2018. “Since then, we have opened a new grade of dual language immersion each year,” she said. “Watching our students ‘grow up’ in the program has been a joy! Two of the challenges that we have found are finding certified bilingual staff and developing appropriate curricular resources in Spanish and Mandarin.”

The program recently had 532 students, with both programs being equally popular, Warren said. Asked about how proficient the students are in either Spanish or Mandarin, Warren explained, “Our DLI program is home to both new language learners and students who already have a proficiency in Spanish or Chinese. If a child already speaks/understands the program language, then their participation in the DLI program allows them to maintain and strengthen their home language while developing biliteracy in English and their home language. If a child does not yet speak or understand Spanish or Chinese, the student will learn the target language from their teachers and peers in the program.”

The program is aligned to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in English/language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, world languages and all other content areas. “Our DLI program follows a 50:50 model. In this model, students experience 50% of the day in English and 50% in the target language: Spanish or Mandarin Chinese,” according to the district’s entry letter. 

Community response to the program has been tremendous, Warren said. “Our kindergarten DLI classes are full, and we have started using a waitlist due to the strong interest in our program,” she said. “Once in the program, our DLI families are very supportive! Year after year, I enjoy watching how families partner with our staff to strengthen and further develop our program. Perhaps the greatest sign of family commitment to the program is the dozens of siblings that we now have enrolled in our K-5 DLI program.”

The DLI program is helping the district encourage students to embrace a rapidly changing world, Warren said. “Ultimately, DLI programming helps students to grow in their knowledge and appreciation of other cultures, to develop a deeper understanding of their own cultures and to learn how to communicate effectively across global communities in multiple languages,” she said. 

Thomas A. Parmalee is NJSBA’s manager of communications and publications.