Learning and leading in multiple languages: NYC expands bilingual programs


CARMEN FARIÑA | 4/7/2016, 4:01 p.m.
Like many New Yorkers, I grew up speaking Spanish at home (and a bit of Galician!) and English at school.
Carmen Farina

Like many New Yorkers, I grew up speaking Spanish at home (and a bit of Galician!) and English at school. My parents, who emigrated from Spain, stressed the importance of maintaining literacy in my native and my adopted language and instilled an understanding of the lifelong benefits of being bilingual and bicultural.

Having a foundation in both English and Spanish has been critical along every step of my career path—as a teacher, staff developer, principal, superintendent, deputy chancellor and chancellor. I’ve been able to communicate with parents in their native language and even had Spanish-language classes for students when I was an elementary school principal.

When I started as chancellor, I knew that expanding bilingual programs would be central to my goal of equity and excellence for all students. We got right to work, creating a stand-alone division of English Language Learners and Student Support and opening nearly 40 Dual Language programs. I’m excited to announce that starting in fall 2016, there will be 38 more new bilingual programs, including 29 Dual Language programs and nine Transitional Bilingual Education programs across the five boroughs in Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Polish and Spanish.

Expanding literacy through bilingual programs is common sense for New York City. We serve 140,000 English Language Learners, who speak 160 languages. Research has shown that children who speak two languages excel in their studies and that being bilingual improves their cognitive abilities, critical thinking and social skills. Mastering two languages will give our students the tools they need for highly coveted 21st-century jobs.

To ensure the new Dual Language and Transitional Bilingual Education programs are effective and rigorous, schools won’t be opening programs in isolation. There will be ongoing professional development, guidance and support for principals and teachers. Schools will receive classroom libraries in the target language and also have the opportunity to visit our 15 model Dual Language programs to collaborate and learn from their strengths.

We are launching both Dual Language and Transitional Bilingual Education programs this year because we want to expand options for children and families. In Dual Language classes, 50 percent of students are ELLs and 50 percent are English-proficient students. Both groups of students receive instruction in English and a target second language. In Transitional Bilingual Education programs, students receive reading, writing and other classes in English and in their home language. As students’ English improves, time spent learning in English increases and time spent learning in the home language decreases. Once the student is no longer identified as an ELL, he or she will exit the program. By offering varying programs, we best serve the unique needs of all our students.

Ultimately, we know that all student, regardless of their home languages, have amazing potential. In fact, our students who speak multiple languages and understand different cultures are a tremendous asset for our entire city.

To learn how to apply for these new programs, families can call 718-935-3500 or visit one of our Family Welcome Centers. For more information please go to http://on.nyc.gov/1SZrXpH.

Carmen Fariña is the current New York City schools chancellor, the head of the New York City Department of Education.