Dual Language Interview Series: Katarina Brito

In School Year 2016-2017, DCPS will have dual language at 11 schools with new programs at Houston Elementary School, MacFarland Middle School, and Roosevelt High School. We’ve heard a lot of interest from parents across the city about these programs, and will start sharing some information about plans to expand bilingual education at DCPS over the coming months.

We got to sit down with Katarina Brito, a Dual Language Developer in DCPS’ Language Acquisition Division, to talk about dual-language in DCPS! Katarina got her start with us after teaching in California and now works to provide high-quality bilingual education to a growing number of DC Public School students.


School Planning: What do Dual Language programs look like at DCPS?

Katarina Brito: All of our programs are Spanish-English dual language programs; they’re fifty-fifty models which mean that at least fifty percent of instruction is offered in the non-English language starting at kindergarten. Within the fifty-fifty model, there’s another model that is known as “two-way immersion”, where kids who speak both languages learn together in the classroom. There are also one-way programs, in which a majority of students speak English or the non-English language. In DCPS we have all of those models; Tyler Elementary has 90% English speaking kids and a few Spanish-speakers, Powell is 85% Spanish-speaking, and most of our other schools are a mix of Spanish- and English-dominant students – all with half of the instruction in English and half in Spanish.

One thing that’s important to emphasize is that our dual-language schools, no matter the model, all have the same four goals: bilingualism (speaking fluently in two languages), biliteracy (reading and writing in two languages), academic achievement, and cultural competency. Those are our driving forces whenever we’re making decisions. We ask ourselves, “How does this change that we’re making bring us closer to meeting or exceeding our goals?”

Within our schools we have a lot of variety. For example, a school might switch the language of instruction by week, day, half-day, or even classroom. We have a set of non-negotiables which makes sure we have stability in place to meet our goals. In fact, we were just complimented in an article in New America, which highlighted how the dual-language programs at DCPS are particularly responsive to their communities, which calls attention to why we have so many models across the District.

School Planning: Is there data that supports dual-language education models?

Katarina pointed us to some research done on elementary and middle school students, which shows that dual-language programs can provide major benefits for native English-speakers and non-native English-speakers. English Language Learners (ELLs) in dual-language tend to have higher test-scores than students in English-Only programs, and English dominant students in dual-language programs tend to perform at or above the level of peers in English-only classrooms. Additionally, dual-language students show higher rates of self-esteem and self-confidence, drop out of school at lower rates, and experience a smaller achievement gap between English-learners and English dominant students.



Thomas and Collier research results: 40,000 ELLs, proficiency on standardized tests in English. The arrow indicates at about 6th grade, English Language Learners in two-way bilingual immersion begin to perform better academically than the 50th percentile of native English speakers.

School Planning: How have parents and communities responded to Dual-Language?

KB: They’re hugely popular among both English Language Learners and English-dominant students. All of this information has come out on the benefits of bilingualism, and families, especially English-speaking families, are excited to immerse their children in such a program and to have their kids develop second-language proficiency.

We also have a sizable number of students who speak another language at home, like Vietnamese or Amharic, and they’re participating in the dual-language program as well, so they’re actually becoming trilingual.

School Planning: What are some of the biggest obstacles facing Dual-Language in DCPS?

KB: There are big obstacles, but there used to be huge obstacles. We’ve been able to find creative ways around staffing and now have no teaching vacancies in any of our schools. We’ve been able to make this possible through partnerships with foreign countries and recruiting from Puerto Rico and the rest of the US. DCPS is really building a name for itself, so people are coming to us after hearing about our programs. Materials are another issue because we’re working within a system that is designed for English instruction, so there’s a need to be creative to make sure we have appropriate and adequate materials in the non-English language.

Additionally, all of the DCPS Dual-Language schools have just been combined into one cluster, which means that they are grouped together and run by one superintendent. This means that all the DL schools can learn from each other, ask questions based on experience, and provide each other resources that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s been really powerful.

School Planning: Are DL programs being piloted anywhere else in the country?

KB: Yes. There’s a huge upswing of DL programs in the nation because of all the research and articles which have come out, proving the benefits of bilingualism. Places like Oregon, and North Carolina are on the cutting edge. In the state of Utah, the governor has committed to opening 100 dual language programs in the year and the state of Delaware is doing the same. California, Texas, and New Mexico all have strong programs as well. It’s popping up everywhere.

School Planning: How do dual-language programs integrate “cultural competency” in schools?

KB: Last year was our first year to offer the Seal of Biliteracy award to high school students who can prove bilingualism and biliteracy. To get the Seal, students have to prove that they’ve taken coursework in English, taken coursework in the non-English language, and have evidence of a cultural competency activity. For example, one recipient did an internship in Mandarin, one student did volunteer work in a French-speaking country, and another went to baseball camp in the Dominican Republic.

The award serves as well-earned recognition for these students that have continued their bilingualism beyond their dual-language programs. It really shows that these programs can have an impact beyond the years students are enrolled in DL programs. We want to keep kids motivated to pursue their dual-language fluency.

School Planning: Is there anything else you’d like the DCPS community to know about dual language programs?

KB: In 2005, there were maybe 500 kids in DL and this year we have 3000 plus. There’s a lot of talk about how there aren’t enough programs out there, but we’ve expanded six-fold. We also didn’t used to have early-childhood, we didn’t used to have high school or middle school programs and now we have it from Pre-K through 12th grades. We’ve grown a great deal over the past ten years and are continuing to explore where we go from here.

MacFarland and Roosevelt Community Cabinet Meeting Notes

Both the Roosevelt and the MacFarland Community Cabinets met the last week of June to wrap up a school year’s worth of work on their neighborhood schools. The Roosevelt Cabinet discussed a number of updates regarding school facilities, uniforms, and an introduction of new administrators. MacFarland Cabinet members discussed facility updates and weighed in on how MacFarland should brand and market itself as a neighborhood school with both dual language and comprehensive programs. It was especially helpful to have parent representatives from all DCPS elementary schools with both dual language and comprehensive tracks.

Principal James even closed us out with a nice little surprise! Much needed on an approximately one billion degree afternoon. Thank you to all our Cabinet members for a year of hard work — we can’t wait to see what the next year holds for your neighborhood schools! Find the Roosevelt notes HERE, and MacFarland notes HERE.

Coolidge Community Working Group Takes First Steps towards Modernization

The Coolidge Community Working Group met on Thursday, June 30th for its first meeting with the architects of the building feasibility study. The Working Group provided some initial input that will help inform the feasibility study, which is the first step in making a proposed modernization a reality. For more details on that process, check out the meeting notes below.

Working Group members started with a walk-through of the Coolidge facility followed by a presentation from Josh Tuch (DCPS Facilities) and HOK Architects. Members discussed key questions in small groups and shared their input with Josh and the HOK team.  The group, which includes parents, teachers, administrators, DCPS Central Office employees, and community members, will continue to meet with the architects until the feasibility study completes in the fall.

Meeting notes are here, the architect’s presentation is here, and some photos and highlights from the meeting are below. Special shout-out to Whittier parent and Working Group member Julie Lawson for her kind words and play-by-play twitter coverage of the meeting. Definitely #FF (do people still say that? No? Okay, well we recommend following her anyway). The next meeting will be in late August, exact date TBD.

Terry Going, Coolidge alumnus, leads a group of parents and community members through the school’s outdoor garden and sitting area. The group was impressed by the sheer size of the green space available to students.
Coolidge alumnus Terry Going points out a historic sign from the World-War 2 era, a small piece of history built into the school.
Community members discuss the status of Coolidge’s outdoor athletic facilities, possible upgrades, and access to the public and the neighborhood.
Architect Stefan Jaborek discusses with parents and community members how to unite goals of efficiency, practicality, accessibility, and beauty for the school’s facilities. Jaborek and his colleagues Quinton Pop and Katrik Shah work for HOK, an international architecture firm focused on efficient, environmentally-friendly modernization and beautification.
The group surveys a science classroom and discusses issues of space and adaptability – certain parents and community members begin making recommendations for the new modernized school (e.g. expandable lab tables)
Coolidge alumnus Terry Goings shows the group one of two gymnasiums on the school’s campus. The school is 271,000 sq. ft., which is the size of five White Houses or more than one and a half Capitol Buildings.
After the walkthrough, the group sits to hear a presentation on the mission and goals for the project. DCPS Facilities Coordinator Josh Tuch leads the discussion, setting the group up for a productive brainstorm session and open discussion.
Coolidge Principal Richard Jackson and alumnus Terry Goings share ideas about outdoor spaces for students. The group talked about safety, natural light, and the use of space. Other discussion topics included: teaching and learning, community engagement, and interaction between neighboring schools, among several others.
Josh Tuch (DCPS Facilities) opens up a discussion following a brainstorming session where community members shared their opinions and ideas on each topic.
Julie Lawson, a Whittier parent of twitter fame, shares her small group’s ideas.
Principal Jackson shares his thoughts about academics at Coolidge and the needs of his students.