Simona Montanari | Spotlight

CSULA faculty member immersed in early language development

Montanari instrumental in launching dual-language immersion program at Glendale elementary school

Pictured: Simona Montanari.

What started out as an exploration for educational opportunities for her two daughters, evolved into a mission to develop a two-way immersion language program in the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD).

Equipped with years of experience in the disciplines of early childhood education and language development, Simona Montanari—professor of child and family studies at Cal State L.A.—spent weeks conducting research, meeting with district officials, rallying supporters, reaching out to interested parents to enroll their children, and recruiting qualified native Italian-speaking teachers with California credentials.

Ultimately, all her hard work came to fruition. In 2009, an Italian-English Dual-Language Immersion Program was launched at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Glendale, just in time for Montanari’s elder daughter to start kindergarten.

According to Montanari, “Research shows repeatedly that children in long-term bilingual programs not only develop higher competence in English than children learning solely in English, but they also reach higher academic achievement than children educated in only one language. Bilingual programs have cognitive, emotional and practical benefits. Studies also show that children in these programs become more tolerant and understanding of other people and cultures.”

Now, Montanari is working with the Italian Ministry of Education to obtain possible accreditation of the elementary-school program. She was recently appointed by GUSD to help with the design and evaluation of the Italian K-6 curriculum and assessment, and she continues to offer her expertise and motivation for the continuation of the program at the middle and high school level.

“Dual language education is a program that has the potential to promote the multilingual and multicultural competencies necessary for the new global business job market while eradicating the significant achievement gap between language majority and language minority students,” according to a report entitled, “Biliteracy for a Global Society: An Idea Book on Dual Language Education,” published by the Educational Resources Information Center.

Concurrently, the school has been officially renamed Franklin Magnet School-International Foreign Language Academy of Glendale. Funded by a federal magnet school grant, it also offers dual-language immersion programs in German and Spanish.

”Dr. Simona Montanari was instrumental in starting the Italian dual immersion program here,” said Vickie Atikian Aviles, principal of Franklin Magnet School. “She immediately connected us with the Italian foundation (Fondazione Italia), and helped us recruit students and exceptional teachers. She is currently co-creating a standards-aligned curriculum for the K-6 Italian program. She is an absolute asset to the school and the dual immersion programs in general.”

Montanari is frequently invited to present workshops and lectures on topics related to early multilingual development, focusing on lexical, phonological, syntactic and pragmatic differentiation. This past weekend, she was invited by the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles to give a seminar exploring themes related to simultaneous bilingual development as opposed to monolingual learning.

She is also a member of the Franklin’s School Site Council; Franklin’s Magnet Immersion Advisory Committee; GUSD Elementary Magnet Advisory Committee; and the GUSD English Learners’ Advisory Committee.

At CSULA, she has received a Creative Leave award to work on language differentiation in early trilingualism, work that culminated with a publication of a book, and a Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity grant to study the phonological skills of Spanish-English dual-language preschoolers.

One of the courses Monatanari teaches, “Second Language Acquisition in Childhood,” helps future educators to teach in school districts in Southern California, where the majority of students are English language learners. She notes that 77 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District students are English language learners, therefore “it is important to understand how children learn a second language that is not spoken at home.” Furthermore, four of Montanari’s students have graduated and gone on to contribute to the development of dual-language immersion programs in their local school districts.

Language studies expand: Cal State L.A. recently became the first university in the nation equipped to educate a continuous flow of Korean language teachers for secondary schools. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between CSULA and the Korean Education Center in Los Angeles paves the way for the University to establish three Korean language programs. Funded by a five-year $769,710 grant from the KECLA, the MOU mandates and enables the CSULA to launch the development of a minor in Korean language by 2012, a major in Korean language by 2015, and a Korean language teaching credential program by 2016. For more: /univ/ppa/newsrel/korean-mou.htm.

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