The city’s public school district is planning to open a dual language school for preschool and kindergarten students beginning academic year 2015-16.
The school will immerse mostly 4-year-olds in Spanish and English to bring them up speaking both languages fluently, according to education officials. “The approach we want to use is two-way immersion,” said Rogelio Suarez, director of district’s bilingual and world language department. “We’re going to use the 50/50 model.”
Suarez said he would like to have 10 Spanish speakers and 10 English speakers in a class where instruction is administered entirely in Spanish the first week and English the second week. The goal he said is to immerse the group in both English and Spanish at the early age of four. “Every study tells you the right age to start learning a language is four-five year old,” said Suarez.
“We’re going to start small,” said Suarez during a presentation before the school board on Wednesday.” We’re going to offer it to pre-k, four-year olds, and kindergarten students in the upcoming academic year.”
School board president Jonathan Hodges said in the long run the district will have to add Arabic and Bengali to its lineup of languages. Currently though, said Suarez, the program will start with Spanish before expanding to include other languages.
“One of those languages will be Mandarin,” said Suarez. Mandarin, a language spoken in China, is a requirement for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program the district intends to roll out in two years or so. Suarez said by adding Mandarin early on the district will prepare its students for the IB.
Suarez sees a good deal of benefit in teaching students two or more languages. He said bilingual mind is more “elastic” and more “creative.” He also said as the world becomes more global dual language speakers are bound to have an opportunity advantage over their monolingual counterparts. Suarez said his daughter, who has a degree from Seton Hall University, obtained a human resource directorship at Lowe’s because she spoke not only English but Spanish as well.
He said the deciding factor came down to language skills. “She was fluent in Spanish and English,” said Suarez. He said knowing an additional language not only helps later in life with employment but also inculcates cross-cultural understanding, improves problem solving skills, inspirits creativity, and promotes tolerance.
Suarez said the school will begin with roughly 20 students in preschool and kindergarten before climbing one grade level each year to ultimately encompass eighth grade.
He said the initial launch will include four teachers, each at $75,000 totaling $300,000; four instructional aides, each at $30,000 totaling $120,000; $30,000 in material, resources, and furniture per classroom totaling $120,000. He estimates the total cost for the school, which will be one of the three new schools part of the new elementary school choice initiative, will be approximately $540,000.
Students for the school will be selected through a lottery, Suarez said. Education officials said an open house will be held this March to recruit students for the elementary choice schools which includes the dual language school.