A Seat at the Table: A conversation with the community about creating a dual-language school in Hartford

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On April 13, Achieve Hartford, Sheff Movement, and the Educational Studies Program at Trinity College extended and invitation to the community to attend a presentation and discussion about how we can bring a dual-language program to the Hartford region. A dual-language model enrolls an equal number of native Spanish speaking students and English speaking students to create an environment that celebrates diversity, creates bi-literacy, and promotes intellectual exchange.

Just outside of the Learning Corridor’s cafeteria where the event was held, I was greeted by the familiar faces of Trinity students politely asking guests to sign in.  Inside of the cafeteria people were buzzing about in anticipation of the event.  I took my seat next to the mother of an original Sheff complainant.  To my right was a Sheff Movement attorney.  I was honored to have a seat at the table (literally and figuratively).  Introductions and interactions were quickly taking place throughout the room.  The crowd was excited and atmosphere was almost festive.

From the onset, it was clear that space would be made for everyone to have a seat at the table for this important discussion.  Educational Studies Professor Andrea Dyrness of Trinity College gave a lively introduction in Spanish then again in English.  The presenters asked if anyone was in need of Spanish translation before continuing the duration of the program primarily in English. Enrique Sepulveda, a professor of Education at the University of St. Joseph also gave an enthusiastic welcome.  In his presentation, “Why a Dual Language School?”, he fleshed out three compelling answers to the question.  Sepulveda highlights building on the linguistic and cultural strengths of native Spanish speakers and their families, promoting bi-literacy and bilingualism, and promoting racial and cultural integration as the key answers to his question.  Professor of Bi-Lingual Education, Liz Howard from the University of Connecticut, presented research and data that illustrated the incredible benefits of a well-designed dual-language program. According to Howard and fellow panelist, Marina Perez Taverner, dual language students may not perform as well as their peers in mono-language programs on standardized tests until the 5th grade or higher. It was stress that a long term commitment to dual language education is integral to students’ success.  Considering the country’s current obsession with annual standardized test scores, I wonder if a model that doesn’t provide instant gratification can survive CMT and CAPT testing.

The most compelling argument for dual education was a brief video showcasing students, faculty, and parents from the Puentes dual-language program Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London.  The young students were poised, articulate, and keenly aware of the ways in which the dual-language program benefit them. If this model can work well in a nearby city, what is the hold up in Hartford? With current school Superintendent Christina Kishimoto lending her support, I would venture to say that Mayor Pedro Segarra, a pioneer in Latino equality, will not be far behind. As a panelist accurately observed, the time to bring a dual-language school to Hartford is now. The stars seem to be aligned, and I could not agree more.

For information on this event or if you would like to learn more about bringing a dual-language school to Hartford, please visit http://bit.ly/DualLang .

Karen Taylor is a Hartford resident and IDP student at Trinity College majoring in Educational Studies.