Dual Language SchoolsReigniting the light for bilingual education in Florida

12/2019
Author Photo: Susanne Peña

By: Susanne Peña

DL Steps Project Manager

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In 1963, the Coral Way School opened the way for something that had never been done in the U.S.; it began the first dual language program. Although the first dual language program opened its doors in the State of Florida, this program model was not embraced as widely as was hoped by districts statewide. Since the opening of the Coral Way School in 1963, some school districts in Florida have attempted to implement dual language programs with varied rates of success. Some of these districts have had to face out their dual language programs. Many factors have contributed to the facing out of dual language programs, including changes in student populations and “disinterest” in the programs by bilingual families.

During the last five to ten years, there have been significant changes in the student populations in areas outside of Miami. The changes in student populations, combined with the growing interest in dual language education models, have provided a shift in the programs offered for multilingual learners in districts across Florida. Many districts outside of the Miami area have started or expanded their dual language programs. Districts such as Duval, Orange, Osceola, Sarasota, the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, Manatee, Pinellas and Seminole have taken a closer look at their programs for multilingual learners and have initiated or expanded their program menu to include dual language programs. Districts such as Osceola and Orange have taken the mission and the vision of reigniting the light for bilingual education to serve grades beyond 5th grade.

But this work has not been done in silos; it has resulted from countless hours of advocacy work from many advocates across Florida. These advocates come from school districts, universities, private companies, philanthropists and passionate improvers. Organizations such as FABES (Florida Association of Bilingual and ESOL Supervisors), SSTESOL (Sunshine State TESOL), LULAC Florida (League of United Latin American Citizens) and FABE (Florida Association for Bilingual Education), among others, have in recent years brought a much-needed spark to bilingual education in Florida.

Although the state of Florida was a pioneer when it opened its doors to the first dual language program in the U.S., it has a long way to go before it is in the same category as states like New Mexico, California, New York and Texas in the areas of dual language. But don’t count us out just yet! With a diverse multilingual and multicultural student population and more than 100 bilingual programs across the state (and many more to open) Florida is on the right track to becoming one of the big powerhouses for bilingual education in the U.S.