Baez counsels parents, principals on 40 dual language programs

Milady Baez, senior executive director of the Department of English Language Learners and Student Support, addressed principals, teachers and parents at the Citywide Council of English Language Learners monthly meeting at Tweed Courthouse last night with one main message:

“Dual language is here to stay,” Baez said.

Baez outlined the details of the 40 new and expanding dual language programs Chancellor Carmen Farina announced last month. The group of about 20 people listened and asked Baez about zoning and the distinction between dual language programs and bilingual education.

Dual language programs are defined by offering half instruction in English and half instruction in the target language. Depending on the program, different languages can be taught on different days or in different subjects. The model of the programs is up to the schools to implement.

Together the 40 programs will receive $1 million in federal funds from Title III Language Instruction for Limited Proficient and Immigrant Students (LEP) and each program received a program planning grant of $25,000. Most of the programs are for Spanish, although Chinese, Haitian Creole, Russian, Hebrew and Japanese will be offered as well. The application process was open to all schools. No school was denied the grant.

Baez said she wants students to be bi-literate, bicultural and bilingual and that research shows bilingual children perform better in school.

“The workforce of the 21st century is that people must have knowledge of more than one language,” she said. “It’s not enough to have children graduate from our schools knowing only one language.”

To offer school support, the DOE will contract Sonia Soltero, director of the Bilingual-Bicultural Education Graduate Program at DePaul University in Chicago, to work with principals and teachers at the 40 programs. Each borough will also have consultants to visit and assist each of the programs. Classes and information for families will be provided on May 6 in Manhattan and the Bronx, May 13 in Queens and May 21 in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

“We need our parents to have a full understanding of dual language and its benefits,” Baez said.

Currently the DOE offers English as a Second Language (ESL), transitional bilingual education (TBE) and dual language programs. Transitional bilingual programs offer instruction in a student’s native language with the goal to eventually transition the student into ESL or mainstream classes.

Yuri Fisher, a parent in Brooklyn, teamed up with four other mothers to apply for the Dual Language Program Planning grant last September. The parents knew the process would take a few years and wanted the opportunity for her children, still under the age of five, to learn both languages in a school setting. The first class of 25 kindergartners will start at P.S. 147 next fall.

“It’s been a high learning curve,” Fisher said. “We’ve had a lot of help from the French Embassy.” Fabrice Jaumont, Education Attache at the French Embassy, is well known for supporting dual language programs and has helped many parents and schools to start their own. One problem, Fisher said, is finding certified teachers. They have two certified now, though the other two are certified in Japan, not in the United States.

To address the issue of teacher certification, Baez said the Department of Education has been working with university programs at St. Johns University and CUNY schools Queens and Hunter College to encourage students to study bilingual education.

“We’re trying very much to encourage those universities to align their coursework to what we’re teaching in public schools,” she said.

Baez asked parents to get involved and to spread the message of dual language to other families.

“We need to nurture the language the child brings with him or her to school but we should encourage students to speak their language language inside and outside of school.”

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