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FUSD News: Spanish Immersion Unified at Blacow Elementary
Posted 11/4/22

fence with paw print and written message: bobcats unitedThe Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) established the Spanish Bilingual Program in 1974 at three elementary schools. Since then, the program has changed sites, adjusted and aligned teaching models, and expanded to serve students in transitional kindergarten through grade 8. 

“The District has maintained and continuously improved our immersion programming for nearly 50 years because of the great benefits of multilingual and multicultural education for our students and their families,” said Dr. Christie Rocha, who oversees the immersion programs as FUSD’s Director of Federal and State Programs. 

marquee with message: bienvenido a blacow
The marquee at Blacow Elementary welcomes the community in both English and Spanish.

In February 2022, FUSD’s Board of Education voted to unify the District’s immersion programs starting in the 2022-23 school year: Spanish Dual Immersion (SDI) classes from Vallejo Mill and Grimmer elementary schools moved to John Blacow Elementary, and Mandarin Immersion Program (MIP) classes from Azevada and Blacow elementary schools unified at Lila Bringhurst Elementary as that school opened.

At the end of the 2021-22 school year, students, families and staff connected to the previous immersion host schools prepared for the next school year at a new location. Between the last day of school in June 2022 and the first day of school in August 2022, classroom materials, library books and student records had to move to Blacow for the SDI program, or Bringhurst for MIP. 

“Immersion and District staff hit the ground running when the Board voted on the unification plan,” said Rocha. “There was an incredible amount of work to finish over the spring and summer, but we had great support from our Maintenance Department and the sites to make this transition successful for our students, families and staff.”

fence with paw print and written message: bobcats united
Blacow Elementary celebrates the unification on its campus.

“The unification is going great - we are excited to get to know our new students and staff,” said Blacow Principal José Hernández. “Now that we have unified the SDI program at one site, we will concentrate our efforts to provide our SDI students and families all the bilingual resources to continue to make our program a success.”

An important step in the unification process was welcoming Vallejo Mill and Grimmer students, families and staff to Blacow.

“I know that for many of our students and their families, switching to a new school would not be easy - for many of them, they have only known one school,” said Hernández. “Which is why it is important to create a welcoming environment for them. Before the start of the school year, we had a Meet and Greet so that families could visit the campus, meet some of the teachers and be able to ask questions.”

Unification also means bringing the new families into Blacow’s existing community outside of classrooms, and building a unified culture together. 

“Our PTO, the Bobcat Booster Club, has welcomed our new families with open arms - starting with the Ice Cream Social and all the other events such as the Fitness Frenzy and Fall Fest. Many of our new SDI families have joined and volunteered their time to the Bobcat Booster Club,” said Hernández. 

latinx heritage month art on an outdoor bulletin board
A bulletin board at Blacow Elementary celebrates Latinx History Month with student artwork.

“As a unified program, we have been able to celebrate our diversity starting with the celebration of Hispanic/Latino Heritage month and celebrating and understanding more about traditions such as the Day of the Dead and the deep-rooted meaning it has in many of our Latin American countries,” said Hernández. 

In recent years, multilingual and multicultural art has been added around the Blacow campus, including small murals painted around water fountains and student artwork displayed on bulletin boards and in classroom windows. 

When Blacow’s community was recently developing plans to add a larger mural to the campus, it listed diversity, literacy and the school’s bobcat mascot among the themes the artwork should represent. 

The late Milagro Orantes recommended Pedro Calderón, her former student in Blacow’s SDI program who had painted two murals at Hirsch Elementary, to design and paint Blacow’s mural.

“Mrs. Orantes is greatly missed,” Hernández said of Orantes, who passed away in 2021. She retired in 2019 after more than 40 years as an immersion teacher at Blacow. “Many families and former students have many fond memories of her dedication, tenacity and wit.”

artist standing with mural
Pedro Calderón with the area of the mural that honors the late Milagro Orantes, who is represented by both a character with her likeness and by a quetzal.

In the spring of 2022, funding for the mural was granted by the Bobcat Boosters Club, Blacow’s parent/teacher organization. Calderón completed the mural in the fall, with the requested themes included, and Orantes represented in the design by both a character with her likeness and by a quetzal.

“Her favorite bird was the quetzal, she was the first person to introduce me to that bird,” said Calderón. “She was one of the biggest people to encourage me to pursue art. I remember when I was in her class she always recommended colleges to me for illustrative art.”

While Calderón continues to share his artistic skills that Orantes saw in him as a young student, he also continues to use his bilingual abilities in his work and life “all the time.” This bilingual fluency is one of the many reasons families enroll their students in immersion programs. 

bulletin board with hello in many languages
A bulletin board at Blacow Elementary celebrates the school's multicultural community with "hello" in many languages.

“Families from many backgrounds enroll their students in immersion programs because they know that being bilingual and biliterate will set students up to meet the challenges and opportunities of a global society throughout their lives and careers,” said Rocha. “For some families, it carries on their home traditions and customs, but for many of our students, immersion programs open new worlds and cultures.”

The immersion model is designed to challenge students to develop fluency and literacy in two languages. FUSD’s immersion programs develop literacy first in either Spanish or Mandarin, with the gradual addition of English. Students in immersion classes are taught using the California State Standards in English as well as the target language. Both English and the target language are taught daily, and students interact in both languages throughout the day. 

“Our immersion teachers and staff are dedicated, extremely skilled bilingual and biliterate educators,” said Rocha. “They make a difference in every child’s life they interact with, and we can see the impact and the value in immersion education in the many former students of FUSD’s immersion classes who now teach in the program, or who choose to enroll their children in the program.”

Blacow offers SDI classes in transitional kindergarten through grade 6, and traditional classes from TK to grade 5. SDI classes continue at Hopkins Junior High, then their assigned high school by home address; Blacow students not enrolled in SDI are in the attendance area for Walters Middle School and Kennedy High School. 

“We hope that our SDI program continues to grow and it continues to be a great program model for our district,” said Hernández. 

Students who are proficient in reading and writing in English and at least one other world language by high school graduation can be granted a State Seal of Biliteracy with a seal affixed to their transcript and/or diploma. The Seal is a statement of accomplishment for future employers and for college admissions. 

FUSD offers the Seal to promote and celebrate the rich linguistic and cultural assets of our community, and to affirm the District’s sustained commitment to prepare students for the 21st century global economy.

All students in Fremont Unified School District are eligible to apply for the Spanish or Mandarin immersion programs. Find more information and applications at

mural with bobcat and characters
Artist Pedro Calderón incorporated themes of diversity, literacy and the school’s bobcat mascot in the mural at Blacow Elementary.


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