In the Westminster School District, children as young as four months old are now learning Spanish and English as they begin to talk.
Westminster’s Infant Toddler Spanish Immersion Program is the first of its kind in Orange County that’s run by a public school district. About 25 children between four and 30 months of age are taught in both Spanish and English while they develop their language skills.
“We want to make the most of the first five years of a child’s life because at that age their brains are like sponges that can absorb so much information,” said Beverlee Mathenia, executive director of Early Education and Expanded Learning at Westminster.
The program, which launched last fall at Land School, is part of the district’s ongoing effort to expand dual language programs across all age levels of children the district serves. Westminster also offers dual immersion preschool and elementary school programs. Three years ago, Westminster became the first district in the state to offer a Vietnamese-language elementary program.
The district-run infant care program provides a state Department of Education-approved dual language curriculum using trained instructional aides. Children are taught in Spanish for about half of the day and in English for the other half.
The program, which is free for low-income families, has a waitlist of 150 children. Mathenia said the one of the ultimate goals is for it to serve as a model for other programs across the county and state.