For the first time, the legislature is giving financial support to districts that offer dual-language instruction. Five districts will receive the first grants.

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With a boost from the state, three new Washington school districts will join the ranks of those offering dual-language immersion programs, providing students the opportunity to learn in both English and Spanish.

Last year, for the first time, the Legislature set aside money to support such programs, in which students spend half the day learning in their native language, and half in another.

On Monday, the state superintendent’s office announced that the Bethel, Selah and Mabton districts will each receive $100,000 to establish new dual language programs.

Two others — Wenatchee and Bellevue — will receive grants of $60,000 and $40,000, respectively, in order to expand existing programs and serve as mentors to the three newcomer districts.

Wenatchee’s program is Spanish-English; Bellevue has programs in Spanish, English and Mandarin.

Many educators believe this model is the best approach for helping English language learners — more effective than pulling them out of their regular classes for language instruction for an hour or so each day, then sending them back to learn all subjects in English.

“We know that the most effective model for closing the opportunity gap for English language learners is the dual-language model,” said Chelsea Whealdon, education coordinator for OneAmerica, a non-profit that lobbied the legislature to provide the dual-language funds.

The dual-language approach benefits all students, regardless of their native tongue, said Rob Darling, principal of John Campbell Primary School in Selah, which started its Spanish-English immersion program this fall.

“Recent research shows the dual model results in a high level of achievement for all students,” Darling said. “Students who are bilingual develop greater cognitive abilities.”

The programs also strengthen foreign-born students’ sense of cultural identity, Darling said.

“Part of our hope is that we can make our Hispanic community realize that we value their background and heritage as much as our own,” he said. “When they lose their language, they lose their connection to their past and to their heritage.”

Campbell, a K-3 school, is implementing the program in its kindergarten classes this year and will roll it out to the other grades in successive years.

In kindergarten, students will spend about 60 percent of their time studying in their native language, whether that’s Spanish or English. By the time they are in second grade, and their language skills have improved, they will divide their study time equally between two languages.

Thirty of Washington’s 295 school districts offer dual-language immersion programs, according to the state superintendent’s office.

The Seattle School District offers programs in Spanish-English, Japanese-English, and Chinese-English.