Dual Language Programs for Kids in Queens

Promoting Queens’ Diversity While Teaching Students to be Fluent in Two Languages   

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Representatives from PS 17 and PS 166 will be at the Third Annual Astoria School Symposium on Saturday Feb 1st 2014 to share information about dual language programs in Queens. In addition, Diana Limongi, who is attempting to start a French Dual Language Program in Astoria will be at the symposium to discuss and gain support for a French program.

In New York City we have lots of options for public schooling. Most people know about their zoned pubic school, and many know about the gifted and talented programs and charter schools, but did you know that there are Spanish, Chinese, and Korean language immersion programs in the Queens public school system?

As Queens residents, we live in one of the most diverse areas in the world. According to the NY State Comptroller, approximately 138 languages are spoken here, more than anywhere else in the United States. In fact, according to the US Census, more than half of Queens residents speak a language other than English at home. Dual language programs foster and promote cultural diversity and respect among all students while teaching two languages.

In Astoria we have two dual language Spanish programs: one at PS 166 and one at PS 17. The one at PS 166 has been in existence for nine years, serving students in kindergarten through 5th grade. PS 17’s program began this past fall with its first group of kindergarteners now half way through their first year.

In these dual language programs, students spend one day learning every subject in English and the next day learning every subject in Spanish. Homework, including math, comes home one day in English and the next day in Spanish. Half the students speak Spanish as their native tongue and half the students speak a different language – sometimes English, but not always – as their first language. Because children learn languages more easily at an early age, it is believed that, by the time dual language students finish 5th grade, they will be proficient speaking, reading, and writing in both languages.

To be accepted into either program, pre-kindergarteners must apply through Kindergarten Connect. The school will then contact them to take an assessment test on their math and language skills. The programs are rigorous, with homework in math, language, and reading every night. Often students are also expected to read additional books sent home in one language or the other. Because the class has to learn all the common core English lessons in 90 days instead of the 180 of a monolingual class, the work is fast-paced. Students are graded in all subjects, but the Spanish is not recorded officially for promotion to middle school. Still, students are expected to, and generally do, perform academically at or above grade level.

Parents at both PS 17 and PS 166 speak highly of the programs, citing the teachers as particularly dedicated. Karen Hill, whose daughter Clare is a kindergartener at PS 17, says that her daughter loves the program. “It has a lot to do with the teacher; she’s a really good teacher.”

The biggest challenge seems to be the amount of homework. Anne Dempsey, who has two children in the program at 166, says that sometimes the dual language learners receive more homework than the gifted & talented kids. “[The dual language program] is a good match for someone who can focus. It’s not that the teachers don’t have tolerance for age-appropriate behavior, but the curriculum is fast-paced.” Jill Galant-Foley, whose son is also at 166 agrees, “There is a lot of homework; it’s our big complaint about the program.  Now that [my son is] in 2nd grade, the English homework is a little easier, but he still has problems getting the Spanish homework done in a reasonable amount of time.”

Leila Ettaibe had a different concern about homework when her daughter entered the program at PS 17. “I was scared because I don’t speak Spanish. My language is Arabic.  Even my English [is not fluent]. I just learn with my daughter a lot of things.” While parents at PS 17 don’t feel that there is too much homework and both programs send home the same text books in both English and Spanish, Ettaibe isn’t sure her daughter will continue with the program. She feels she will be less able to help her daughter as she becomes more advanced. “The homework will only get harder,” she concludes.

While the homework may be challenging and the program rigorous, the rewards are gratifying. Dempsey says that both her kindergartener and her third grader have accents like their teacher, not like an American. Hill says that her kindergartener is already starting to read Spanish words. The brochure handed out by PS 166 states that “most students achieve at levels that are similar to or higher than those of their monolingual peers on standardized tests of reading and math. In addition they are able to read and write, at grade level, in the other language.”

Written by Rebecca Raymond – Rebecca is Public Relations Chair for the Astoria School Symposium and an Astoria mother of two.

photo credit: emrank via photopin cc