Kids Town Preschool hosted an “Early Language Immersion Convening” on Tues., Sept. 18 to educate parents and community members on the benefits and lessons learned from our new early childhood multilingual language immersion program.

Speakers included Dr. Janet Oh, Professor of Psychology at California State University, Northridge; Melanie Hill, PreK GLAD Trainer from the Orange County Department of Education; Jacqueline Chun, Senior Program Officer from The Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation; and Sam Joo, Director of the Magnolia Community Initiative.

Representing KYCC, the Kids Town Director Myung Jin Rhee and Division Director of Children and Family Services Nayon Kang spoke about the integration of the program at the school. Steve Kang, KYCC External Affairs Director, moderated the early childhood education panel discussion.

“KYCC wants to highlight the benefits of our language-rich environment at Kids Town Preschool,” said Ms. Kang. “By sharing our lessons learned, we hope to attract families and to inspire other early childhood centers to provide a multilingual education to develop academic and social learning.”

Ten Years in the Making

The seeds of the multilingual early childhood program began in 2008 when then-Kids Town Director Lisa Kim and Dr. Oh met with researchers and conducted statewide site tours of dual language preschool programs to understand the feasibility of introducing the model to our preschool.

Dr. Oh pointed out that the U.S. is the only country where learning one language is the norm. She stressed not only the importance of maintaining a child’s native language but also pointed out the cognitive benefits of multilingualism.

“Many of the Kids Town children come from immigrant families,” added Joo, who was the KYCC Director of Children and Family Services when the program was being researched. “Not only will the students have the value of knowing English, but their native language will prepare them for a global society and to be more successful in school.”

Dr. Oh referenced a linguistic study that showed children can differentiate languages prenatally. “So the best time to learn a second language,” she stressed, “is between the ages of three to five.”

In the spring of 2016, KYCC introduced Pre-GLAD, the Preschool Guided Language Acquisition Design curriculum as the precursor to our trilingual curriculum. Pre-GLAD implements the use of visuals, gestures, and songs to introduce a structured language program.

The Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation was instrumental in the implementation of this program years ago. “We believe that learning starts at birth,” explains Chun. “We also place a lot of emphasis on building strong relationships in families.”

The Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation made a unique multi-year investment because they valued the parent engagement component to the curriculum, as well as the vision to scale the model. “The potential to take this into other programs and schools to create a lifelong journey of learning had multi-pronged benefits.

“We have to be very strategic about our investments,” explained Chun, of the foundation’s funding strategy. “With the Pre-GLAD curriculum at Kids Town, we saw that there would be impact at multiple levels.”

Korean-English immersion was introduced at Kids Town in the fall of 2017 and Spanish-English will begin in the fall of 2019. The California Community Foundation provided additional program funding, which was critical for curriculum development, parent engagement and the assessment and documentation process. 

A Perfect Fit

Kids Town Director Myung Jin Rhee explained the program’s philosophy—based on the Reggio Emilia approach—and how the progressive, child-centered, multi-age scaffolding curriculum was a perfect fit for the Pre-GLAD model.

Melanie Hill said her experience as a PreK GLAD trainer at Kids Town has been extremely positive. “I love the community that Kids Town has been able to create—it’s like a little village in there. It’s an amazing opportunity for the students to go from classroom to classroom and use their language in multiple areas, not just in a one-classroom setting.” She also praised the Kids Town staff for their cohesive planning and lessons.

She emphasized that GLAD is research-based on how a child learns best, employing a comprehensive 22 strategies. “Students are getting the benefits of learning two languages and making use of a thematic unit to get a broader understanding of what they’re learning—all through vocabulary.”

“It’s about making our world smaller,” Hill added, pointing out the real-world benefits. “We live in a world today where we do need to have multiple languages.”

In the Classroom

Recently, Kids Town children were learning about transportation as a subject. From there, they had subtopics of “airplane,” “bus” and “helicopter.” The kids were able to explore and go into any of the three Kids Town classrooms (Maple, Willow and Aspen) where the subject is integrated into multiple mediums.

Students teach each other words. Posters line the walls in Korean and English. Songs are taught and played during Music and Me, and the song lists and lyrics are handed out to the parents at pick up.

“Parent engagement was an unexpected bonus,” Rhee pointed out. “Kids have conversations with their parents in the car or at home about what they learned, so now we’re double and tripling language exposure.”

Kids Town took advantage of the parent enthusiasm. Handouts were distributed on “Words of the Day,” and videos of gestures that teachers used were emailed. Parents have commented on their ability to learn a new language from their child to grow and build upon their family relationship.

Future goals

Now that the implementation phase has been completed, Kids Town is fully dual language with a Korean-English program. Spanish-English is in the works for 2019. The other foci will be on collecting and analyzing longitudinal data and to outreach and inspire the early childhood education community as a whole, so that more centers can start or enhance their own early childhood immersion programs.

“This multilingual immersion program is incredibly fitting in a highly diverse setting like Koreatown,” says Ms. Kang. “It will equip students with a heightened sense of cultural awareness, an enriched preschool experience, and a lifelong love of learning.”

Kids Town was established in 2004 as a full day, year-round preschool in Koreatown for children, ages 2.5 to 5 years. Kids Town implements a Whole Child program, focusing on intellectual development as well as emotional well-being, social skills and physical activity. Kids Town is an accredited program of the NAEYC, a national system that recognizes high-quality early education programs set to professional standards. NAEYC is currently the highest accreditation that can be awarded to early education programs.

For another story on the introduction of our Pre-GLAD curriculum, please click here.

For a KBS news story in Korean on our Multilingual Immersion Program, please click here.

For additional Dual Language resources, please click here