Following a trend in surrounding districts, South San Antonio Independent School District trustees approved the addition of dual language programs at five elementary schools Wednesday night.

Dual language programs allow students learning English and native English speakers to enroll in the same classes. Instruction is split between Spanish and English, encouraging students to have a strong grasp of both languages.

South San plans to begin offering dual language programs in prekindergarten and kindergarten at Benavidez, Five Palms, Athens, Price, and Hutchins elementaries. Class will start with 90 percent of instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English in the first two grade levels. As students progress, the language split will even out. By fourth grade, class will be taught in Spanish half of the time, and the other half of the time in English.

The district currently offers a late exit bilingual program, which just serves students still learning English. From prekindergarten on, teachers gradually phase out the use of Spanish in the classroom. By fifth grade, teachers only spend 10 percent of the lesson instructing in Spanish.

The change from bilingual to dual language programs will allow a more solid understanding of both languages and benefit both English learners and native English speakers, Director of Federal and State Programs David Abundis told the board in a presentation Wednesday night.

“This honors the cultures our students come from,” trustee Kevin Rasco said. “It plays to the strengths of our students [and] it gives them a real advantage.”

Rasco is an educator in San Antonio ISD, a district that has invested heavily in dual language programming. In 2018, SAISD tripled its dual language programming and has continued adding since.

Many other local districts offer dual language programming, including Northside, North East, Alamo Heights, Judson, Southside, Edgewood, and Harlandale ISDs. Adding the program to South San’s offerings will make the district more competitive when attracting students, Abundis said.

With board approval, district administrators will finalize a vision and goals for the new program, start promoting it with parents, and begin recruitment for additional teachers.

District staff estimated South San will need to hire an additional four bilingual teachers. As bilingual teachers are often in high demand, the district plans to review the stipend it issues to attract candidates for the position.

Ultimately, the district hopes to build the program up through middle and high school. In 2020-21, the district will offer 15 total classes, administrators said.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.