The PS 197 Q Ocean School is in Far Rockway, Queens, NY. We chose them as our July School of the Month for their pure dedication to authentic biliteracy. This program conducts biweekly meetings within their dual language program with consultants in Spanish. By conducting meetings in your target language, this allows teachers to fully embrace the mission of the program. The school came to the decision to open a dual language program because many of their students come from Central and South America, and due to the renown research on the benefits that dual language education has shown.
To implement the school, the school went through a rigorous process. The Principal, Christina Villavicencio, worked with Dr. Lucia Buttaro, Chair of TESOL/ Bilingual Advanced Certificate Programs, Graduate School of Education, Touro College and with a dedication to biliteracy; they decided to have an intensive summer institute for teachers. This allowed the teachers to develop dual language teaching competency, consisted of three full day workshops and presentations, plus supplemental reading that allowed teachers to familiarize themselves with the process for next year. Dr. Buttaro herself is a published author of the widely used “Easy Steps for Implementing and Evaluating a Dual Language Program for Native English Speakers & English Language Learners” monograph which the teachers used in their learning.
Their process began with a rough start, as they first experimented with a variety of formats, one being starting half the day in English and the other half in Spanish. They then switched to alternating between a full day in English and a full day in Spanish, which caused challenges with equal allocation in a five-day week. They also struggled with the administration as the process for demo lessons for hiring potential teachers was only done in English. Dr. Buttaro insisted that this also be done in Spanish for true accuracy on the quality of teachers.
“The advice I would give to other schools is to take it slow. This cannot be done in a rush; as there is a high price to pay for that, which causes turnover and teacher burnout. I would also advise the teachers to truly be competent with their Spanish. Knowing how to speak the language does not equate to knowing how to teach content areas in that language”- Dr. Buttaro
The biggest challenges the program faced were to seek approval from everyone in the school, this included everyone from custodial staff to secretaries. This didn’t mean that everyone had to speak Spanish, but it meant that there had to be respect so that everyone in the program feels welcome. This is a work in progress but is necessary in creating a supportive environment for the program. To ensure this, they created a bilingual report card, where they meet with parents on a monthly basis to ensure that they are committed and understand the circumstances of a dual language program.
For their Spanish curriculum to ensure authentic biliteracy development, they use ITALICS“Senderos”, which Dr. Buttaro provides authentically as she often travels for conference presentations around the world. Many of their teachers go to the Mexican embassy, which provides them with materials in Spanish. They attend the Instituto Cervantes to expose the students to Spanish authors and allow them to read stories to have a better understanding of how culture and love of language are crucial in truly developing authentic biliteracy.
“Our program has teachers that have a love for Spanish language and culture. Their lessons are filled with games, exercises, and dictations that did not exist previously. They conduct a Spanish spelling bee, their teachers celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, conduct a Spelling Bee contest in Spanish, attend La Cosecha, NYSABE, and NABE. Everyone sees the benefits”- Dr. Buttaro
We congratulate Dr. Buttaro and P.S. 197 on this amazing program and look forward to seeing their many accomplishments!