Elgin Area School District U-46's officials Monday night discussed the roll out of dual language programming in high schools next school year.
"This has been a multiyear journey to get this to high school," Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said.
Sanders added, when the first generation of U-46 graduates who have gone through the dual language program enter the workforce "they will be unstoppable."
U-46's 80:20 Dual Language Program serves Spanish-speaking English learners from prekindergarten through eighth grades at 33 elementary schools, including two early learning centers, and five middle schools.
It offers a bilingual educational environment in which students are taught literacy and academic content in English and Spanish starting in kindergarten, where 80 percent of classroom instruction is in Spanish and 20 percent in English. As students move up in grades, English instruction increases by 10 percent per grade until both languages reach parity by third grade.
Its goal is to foster bilingualism, bi-literacy and multiculturalism, which officials say has proved to help students improve academically, while incorporating awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity.
The program was implemented in eighth grade this school year, and will be rolled out at the district's five high schools starting with 731 incoming ninth-graders in the 2018-19 school year, officials said.
"This is the logical next step for our dual language students," said Annette Acevedo, director of English Language Learners programs. "We feel confident that this is equity work at its finest."
Acevedo said research has shown dual language learning increases students' cognitive development and results in higher student engagement.
She added, the demand for bilingual workers -- most notably in the finance and health care industries -- in the U.S. is rising, according to one study.
High school students in the dual language program will not be able to enroll in the specialized academy programs offered at each high school. Dual language students will be enrolled in seven classes like their peers in the academies. They will be required to take four years of Spanish language arts and four years of English language arts. Coursework includes Advanced Placement offerings in Spanish, officials said.
Officials said they identified educators with high school background and expertise to develop the dual language coursework. They also will be selecting and recruiting teachers with the appropriate credentials to teach the courses.
School board member Jeanette Ward said she is concerned the dual language program targets Spanish speaking students and that it prolongs dependence on Spanish.
Board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said developing a bilingual workforce with an understanding and appreciation for other cultures is important.
"From an HR perspective, this makes our students highly competitive," she added.
Parent Kate Thommes lauded the district for adapting to a changing world. Her daughters went through the dual language program at Channing and Otter Creek elementary schools, both in Elgin. One daughter now is a student in Streamwood High School's World Languages and International Studies Academy and on track to take Advanced Placement Spanish classes and preparing to earn a Seal of Biliteracy, she said.
"U-46 has students that represent over 90 languages and even more countries," she said. "Hiding from the global society doesn't do anybody any good. The global society is coming to us."