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Dual Immersion vs. Public Education

Is a dual immersion language program right for my daughter?

Little girl wears back pack for first day of school

When I was growing up (now I sound old), there were two options for schooling. The public school you were zoned to or homeschool.

Now, within a 10-minute drive from our home, there are two public schools, an Arts Academy, a STEM school, a Montessori school, a charter school, dual immersion programs, and two private schools.

How am I as a parent supposed to choose which school is best for my kids' futures? If my parents dedicated my education to my interests in elementary school, I would have gone the performing arts route, something I didn't choose to study in college and which doesn't apply to my career. Would it have been a waste of years of special tuition and classes that replaced the standard curriculum?

Still, I would LOVE for my kids to speak Portuguese and to fall in love with the language and culture the way I did when I lived in Brazil. Having a dedicated language education starting at a young age would have a lasting impact on my daughter as she starts preschool this year.

My husband and I have been back and forth. Should we vs. shouldn't we? Spanish vs. Portuguese (he lived in Argentina)? Apply now vs. maybe next year?

In the end, we decided not to apply for a spot in a dual immersion program, and I'll tell you why, but first, here are the 5 main reasons we considered a dual immersion/bilingual program for my daughter this year:

  1. Language Fluency: I speak Portuguese occasionally at home, but having our daughter hear it all day in a classroom/playground setting would really help her learn the language quickly and effectively.

  2. Cultural Connection: I LOVE Brazil, and a big part of that love is the rich and beautiful Brazilian culture. Not going to lie, having that cultural connection with other parents who celebrate Brazilian culture would be a great way to pass that cultural appreciation onto my kids.

  3. Adaptability: My daughter has no expectations when it comes to school. By starting her grade school education in a dual immersion program, she won't know that it's a special classroom that's different from what her neighborhood friends go to. She'll adapt to a Portuguese classroom smoothly if we put her in one from the start.

  4. Limited Opportunity: The dual immersion program closest to us, doesn't accept applicants after first grade. If we want her to be a part of this, we need to make the decision NOW because it really is a limited educational opportunity.

  5. Long-Term Benefits: Growing up with a Portuguese curriculum is something that will forever benefit my daughter. Being bilingual opens so many doors from careers, to travels, to relationships.

Preschool girl holds "first day of preschool" banner.

But, despite all the positives, in the end, we opted to register her in a neighborhood preschool instead of a dual immersion program.

Here are the 5 main reasons we didn't choose a dual immersion/bilingual program for my daughter this year:

  1. Friend Circle: This is our first school year in a new house. My daughter has a few playmates we've met in the neighborhood, but no one in her grade. It's important to me that she finds friends we can easily have a park playdate with and can also sign up for extracurricular activities with.

  2. Peer Interactions: Dual immersion classes are basically cohorts, and you're with the same students year after year as you advance together. This really limits the diversity of your peers. I've also heard from other parents whose older kids are in dual immersion programs, that the class sizes thin over the years. Lots of parents sign their kids up in elementary school, but as their children start to develop their own interests, they leave the program to attend a different school.

  3. Convenience: This is a big one for me. If I have the choice between driving 8 minutes to school and 18 minutes, I'm going for the shorter! You might think, "It's only a 10-minute difference," but driving it 4x's a day is a 40-minute difference, and as a working mom, I could use that extra 40 minutes elsewhere. (I've heard too many horror stories to put my kindergartener on a public school bus.)

  4. Unbalance: I knew a teenage girl who grew up doing a dual immersion Chinese program. She loved it, until she didn't and eventually transferred to her zoned public school so she could be with friends. From what I understood, she was advanced in her Chinese courses to the point where all subjects were taught in Chinese. When she transferred to public school the curriculum differences were a struggle for her.

  5. Teacher Qualifications: There is a teacher shortage across America right now. If schools are struggling to find qualified teachers to teach in public schools, how are they finding qualified bilingual teachers to teach advanced courses like high-school physics or AP US History? (I'm not saying it's impossible, just that it's a concern I have.)

Dual immersion programs are clearly doing well since they keep adding new ones and new languages! I love that these opportunities are increasing in availability! Every family should weigh the pros and cons for their child and their family. I'm just trying to do what's best for my daughter and my family, and for now, that's the closest school with the highest reviews.


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