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Westminster School District’s Vietnamese dual-language students celebrate milestone

Warner Middle School Vietnamese dual-language immersion students received an achievement award.
Warner Middle School Vietnamese dual-language immersion students received an exemplary academic achievement award during eighth-grade promotion.
(Courtesy of Tony Phan / Westminster School District )
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A ceremony at Warner Middle School in Westminster saw the first-ever cohort of Vietnamese dual-language immersion students in Orange County promoted to high school.

Santina Vu, an eighth-grader, earned the Superintendent’s Award at the Tuesday ceremony and is one of 18 students to have promoted from the cohort.

“I learned a lot of skills through the program,” she said on the day of her promotion. “I also got closer to the Vietnamese community.”

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Westminster School District’s groundbreaking program first started in 2015 with a kindergarten class at DeMille Elementary School in unincorporated Midway City near Little Saigon, the largest hub of Vietnamese Americans in the United States.

At the time, schools in Texas, Oregon and Washington had similar programs, but there were none in California.

Since then, school districts in Anaheim and Garden Grove have offered Vietnamese dual-language immersion.

In elementary school, Westminster School District’s program mixes native Vietnamese- and English-speaking students with English-language-learning students. Core subjects are taught 50% in Vietnamese and 50% in English.

Coming from a Vietnamese-speaking household, Vu started the program at DeMille Elementary School in 2016 and has continued with such studies ever since.

By the time students reach Warner Middle School, they are enrolled in history classes where half of the instruction is in Vietnamese and half in English. They also enroll in a full-immersion language and culture course.

Dr. Kenneth Lopour, Warner Middle School’s principal, said he already sees the benefits of Vietnamese dual-language immersion as he prepared to say goodbye to its first promoting eighth-grade cohort.

“The students who are in the program have significantly higher scores on average than the school as a whole,” he said.

About 60 students studied under dual-language immersion at Warner Middle School this past school year as cohorts only continue to get bigger amid declining enrollment elsewhere in the county. Enrollment at DeMille Elementary School is always in demand.

“It is a real source of growth of students for our district,” Lopour added.

Los Amigos High saw 338 seniors participate in the school’s commencement ceremony on Wednesday at Monsoor Stadium on the campus of Garden Grove High.

May 29, 2024

Once reaching middle school, the program’s students are more involved with the local Vietnamese community, whether at festivals or events like a recent Black April commemoration where Vu read a poem in Vietnamese to mark the fall of Saigon.

“During the ceremony, I felt very connected to the Vietnamese people there,” she said. “I also got a glimpse of their emotional well-being and felt connected to their history.”

Diana Doan teaches seventh-grade Vietnamese dual-language immersion classes and felt a special attachment to the program’s first cohort — she was previously their fifth-grade teacher at DeMille Elementary.

From that unique perspective, Doan has seen the students’ linguistic and academic growth up close.

“One of the most meaningful impacts is the confidence that the students build throughout the years,” she said. “Every year, they get better and better. Every year, they grow into themselves a little bit more.”

Thanks to a partnership forged in March with Huntington Beach Union High School District, the cohort will have the opportunity to continue their dual-language immersion studies at Westminster High School in the fall as incoming ninth-graders.

According to Westminster School District, the program’s K-12 pipeline marks a first for Vietnamese language instruction in the nation.

The model allows for students to become fully bilingual and biliterate while maintaining an essential part of their culture.

For Doan, now that the first cohort is heading to high school, she knows her former students will graduate and be well-positioned for the future.

“They really want to use their skills to give back to the community,” Doan said. “No matter what their hopes and dreams are, not only are they going to be more desired when the hiring opportunity comes, but they can work in Westminster, their hometown.”

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