Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Immersion Washington K-8

Immersion learning in all Washington K-8 public schools by 2040?

Washington Schools Superintendent Christ Reykdal plan would give all kids the opportunity to become bilingual

Approximately 750,000 students will attend Washington State elementary schools this year according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Currently, only 35,000 in 110 public elementary schools across the state have access to a dual language learning environments, also known as “immersion” programs. 

That would change under a new plan announced by Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. If the plan comes to fruition, every elementary or K-8 student in Washington will have the option of participating in immersion learning by 2040. King County is home to two of the state’s largest districts, Seattle School District which has 62 K-8 schools and Lake Washington School District which has 33.

The mural at Seattle’s Beacon Hill International School, an immersion school.

Immersion: Learning in two languages

In immersion-style schools, students learn classroom content partly in English and partly in another language in order to grow biliteracy and bilingualism. Most dual language schools in the state pair English and Spanish, but French, Native American tribal languages, Vietnamese and other languages have also been immersion partners to English.

“The evidence is clear,” Reykdal said in a release. “When young people become bilingual during the early grades, they have more cognitive flexibility and they perform better in school. As our global economy changes and our world becomes increasingly international, dual language education must become a core opportunity for our students.”  

In order to move the plan forward, the Washington State Legislature would need to invest $18.9 million between 2023 through 2025. That would allow immersion  programs to be opened i 49 new districts beginning in the 2026-2027 school year. The next chunk of schools ( 34 districts) would become dual language schools in 2029. By 2040, all 2,255 Washington State K-8 schools would offer immersion learning. 

Increasing the number of bilingual educators

Besides preparing curriculum, funds approved by the legislature in its next session would help districts to develop bilingual teacher workforces. At the high school level, money would be spent to ensure high school students have a chance to earn a “Seal of Biliteracy” by graduation. According to Reykdal, 3,500 students earned the seal last year covering 83 different languages. 

Reykdal said growing the bilingual educator workforce is essential to meeting the goal of all K-8 schools offering immersion by 2040. His plan includes doubling the number of residency preparation programs for bilingual educators, as well as providing annual stipends to bilingual certified teachers ($5,000) and instructional paraeducators ($1,500) working in dual language classrooms.

Closing the gaps

In announcing the plan, Reykdal pointed to the presence of ample research showing that immersion is the only program model that prevents and closes opportunity gaps for multilingual learners and other student groups that have been historically underserved. 

Roxana Norouzi, Executive Director of Seattle-based OneAmerica, Washington’s ;largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization, explained it this way: “As an immigrant rights organization, we believe that multilingual education is a cornerstone to building a thriving state for immigrants and refugees.”

“Dual language is a long-term investment in students to become bilingual and biliterate,” Norouzi said. “It centers multiculturalism in the classroom and has been proven to improve educational outcomes for immigrant and non-immigrant students alike. Washington state has an opportunity to be a leader on this front.” 

Read more at Seattle’s Child:

“Raising a bilingual child”

“Creating a more inclusive classroom”

About the Author

Seattle Child Staff

Send story ideas to editor@seattleschild.com