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.

Dual-Language Immersion

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On Saturday April 13, 2013 in the Learning Corridor citizens of Hartford, concerned parents, reformers, educators, lawyers, and even students came together to discuss the creation of a multi-district dual-language magnet school for the Hartford region. These schools bring together students who speak different languages and educate them together in both languages in order for every child to become bilingual and biliterate. Andrea Dyrness and Enrique Sepulveda welcomed all guests and introduced three panelists, Liz Howard, Marina Perez Taverner, and Robert Cotto, who spoke about various aspects of creating this type of school in Hartford.

I had no prior knowledge of dual-language schools and this meeting was very informative. The model, in my opinion, is brilliant. To take children who speak different native tongues and educate them together, in both languages, is a wonderful way not only to create bilingualism, but also to encourage “intercultural competence.” To inspire sentiments of tolerance and acceptance of other cultures in children at such a young age can only benefit society. In addition, bilingualism is an invaluable skill that, I feel, is often overlooked in the United States.

When I learned from Liz Howard that Hartford used to be a “stronghold” of dual language education in the state of Connecticut, I was very surprised. I was interested in the reasons why the system might have been dissolved in the area. The video testimonials of parents and students involved with the Puentes dual-language program compiled by Nyesha McCauley was my favorite part of the discussion. I was pleasantly surprised by how wise the children interviewed were. Students Hirishi, Santiago Cortes, and Finella Smith shared some very wise words about how mastering two languages will be very helpful as they grow older and how being bilingual allows them to make friends with new people. The fact that children so young could recognize these values only reinforced my support for dual-language schools.

I believe that dual-language immersion programs in Hartford would be a great success. Robert Gotto explained that to create this magnet school in Hartford is, in fact, feasible and I hope that it becomes a reality for the region. I have mentored in a local elementary school for the past two years and many of the students I have interacted with are not native English speakers; I do believe that many of these youth, if not all, would benefit a great deal from a dual-language program. I think the creation of a multi-district dual-language magnet school in Hartford would be a wonderful asset to the community.

Two Languages are Better Than One: A Look Dual-Language School Models for Hartford

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On Saturday, April 13th Achieve Hartford, the Sheff Movement, and the Educational Studies Program at Trinity College cosponsored an event on dual-language school models. This event was open to the public and provided a space for various panelists who shared results on the effectiveness of dual-language programs based on empirical evidence and also personal experiences.

Dual-language programs are not a new concept for Hartford schools. In fact, a select few of Hartford elementary schools had programs between the years 1998 and 2007. These schools were not well not implemented and were eventually discontinued. Despite these setbacks, local supporters of dual-language immersion programs have not given up their fight to see these programs thrive. The first line of action is informing a variety of stakeholders of the benefits of these programs to garner more support, which was the goal of the event.

This event was a great first step to get people to take action in support of the creation of a dual-language magnet school for students in the Greater Hartford area. Not only were there resources for starting up an effective dual-language program, there were student, parent, and teacher testimonies and more importantly information on how to a maintain a successful dual-language immersion program. Several of the presenters acknowledged the many challenges that have the potential to arise while trying to implement the program. However, all of them encouraged the dual-language supporters to continue in their fight because of the many benefits that the program can offer.

Click the link to view the presentations that were presented this event.


Dual Language Presentation At The Learning Corridor

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On Saturday morning, April 13th, members of the Hartford community congregated together at the Learning Corridor to listen to various Connecticut educators discuss the merits of creating a dual-language magnet school in Hartford.  At the beginning of the discussion, Trinity College Professor Andrea Dyrness shared a story with community members that illustrated the negative perception that exists within mainstream American culture concerning bilingual education in schools.  She said that when her daughter enrolled in the Hartford school district, educators were immediately alarmed upon finding out that both English and Spanish were spoken in the Dyrness household.  The school district asked, “Will you daughter need special attention?” While Professor Dyrness thought that the bilingual education her daughter had received at home would be viewed as a strength in the eyes of Hartford educators, it instead, was viewed as a weakness.  But how could this be?  It is this very question that has driven Professor Dyrness and other local educators to push for the creation of dual-language magnet school in Hartford, a school where bilingualism would be openly celebrated, not flat-out disregarded.   Under the conditions of a dual-language school, native English and Spanish speakers would be integrated into an educational program where at least fifty percent of the curriculum would be covered in Spanish.  Presenters stressed that the positive effects of a dual-language system can generally be identified once a Kindergarten class makes its way up to Fifth grade, so a commitment to the long term is imperative.   Not only would students benefit from learning multiple languages and developing an appreciation for differing cultures, but studies have shown that it would also prepare students better for the jobs that lie ahead in our interconnected world.   The presenters and advocates for a bilingual magnet school in Hartford concluded their discussion by challenging the community members in attendance to garner as much support from other citizens as possible, which would put deliberate pressure on the Hartford Board of Education to vote in favor of a dual-language magnet school.