The Williamsburg Dual Language Japanese Program of NYC

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The Williamsburg Dual Language Program is the first Japanese Dual Language Program established in a NYC Public School. The program was started by a group of dedicated mothers who saw the need for dual language education in languages other than the French and Spanish programs that were already represented in the Brooklyn area. After visiting a plethora of schools, they found the right host – Public School 147 (PS 147) — under the leadership of Principal Sandra Noyola and Vice Principal Eliza Figueroa.

The program officially opened its doors in September of 2014. Currently, the inaugural class is in 3rd grade, and the program plans to continue to expand with this class until all six grade levels (K-5) have at least one JDLP classroom. This year, JDLP hired an additional teacher to cover the growing classes, a very exciting milestone for the evolving program.

Kick-starting a dual language program with a target language that is less common among programs already established within the United States poses many challenges. First, a new program must find the funds to staff their program; the Williamsburg Program has found that regardless of the support from the community leaders and local politicians, having complete financial support has been an urgent and ongoing challenge, and cannot be expected.

Another challenge has been finding certified and qualified teachers and staff. Lastly, and most importantly, the JDPL has struggled with recruiting, enrolling and retaining enough Japanese-speaking students in each grade in order to maintain the required rations of Japanese speakers to non-Japanese speakers. This obstacle has been especially demanding in older grades, as students move away from the area and don’t return to the school.

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The Williamsburg Dual Language Program has created an abundance of resources for families to support their child’s education outside of the classroom setting. The lead teacher, Kudo Sensei, shares highlights of lessons taught in class through her website. Likewise, parents are encouraged to communicate with one another and share resources on social media websites like Facebook. The program plans to implement after-school support days to help students and their families keep up with the extra academic work of the Japanese program. Likewise, it plans to run a Japanese-language enrichment workshop to share its love of Japanese language and culture with the entire school community.

So far, the community response in Brooklyn has been extremely positive. There has been a flood of support from parents, families, community leaders, local politicians and education directors.

The JDLP is hoping to increase their outreach programs through events open to the public in order to create a more positive image of the program and the Japanese culture. Last year, the program hosted a New Year photo booth and several breakfast sales. Additionally, it participated in school-wide cultural events – such as Game Nights and Multi-Cultural Exchange – to contribute to the cultural enrichment of the school community. This year, the program hopes to increase its efforts and add a festival to promote and celebrate diversity of this school.

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Support at home is crucial for students’ success, and equally as important as their development within the classroom.

The degree of students’ progress in Japanese learning and fluency appears to be directly related to the amount of help and encouragement that parents are willing and able to provide with their studies and assignments.

At-home support increases and becomes significantly more important as the child progresses through each grade.

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Initiating and implementing a dual language program – especially for a program in which the target language is less common than other programs – takes a team of leaders to be successful. In the case of the JDLP, it was crucial to have a group of parents, teachers, and school administrators who are dedicated in making the program a reality.

Likewise, it is imperative for parents to be proactive and become involved in their child’s dual language education. Communication is critical; if a parent has questions or concerns, they must not be afraid to reach out and ask the school or teacher. It is important for both parties – parents and educators – to understand and recognize that they share the same goal in creating a nurturing environment for a student’s success. Ultimately, the Williamsburg JDLP hopes support their students in achieving the Seal of Biliteracy.

Biliteracy is not just about being able to speak two languages. It’s about understanding different perspectives, respecting different cultures, and learning how to find a harmonious balance in dualities.

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