This month, we are honoring the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, for their excellence, perseverance, and dedication to bilingual education. They began their dual language school as a result of their conviction that bilingualism is both a critical 21st century skill, and a means of cultivating empathy and building bridges across cultures.
Their planning process began with the formation of a founding team that included a range of skill sets in order to tackle the enormous task of building a school from scratch most effectively and efficiently. They each took on a different piece of the process according to experience and expertise. One important element of their planning process was reaching out to successful existing schools for feedback on established best practices, as well as what they had learned along the way—or even wished they had done differently.
It was incredibly helpful to have a full year dedicated to planning before opening our doors. This allowed us to think through and plan every aspect of the program and, importantly, to put together a team of experts currently working in the field, along with local community leaders, to provide input every step of the way. We learned quickly to work nimbly to learn from both research data and from history to weave together effective aspects of successful programs, and really make them our own.
The beauty of a charter school in New Jersey is that the New Jersey Department of Education holds the schools to high standards, but then, also, allows them to innovate, which in turn allows them to be more effective in their mission. The flexibility they had in their implementation phase allowed them to choose the dual-language program that, through their research, they found most effective—the 90/10 model of immersion. They became the first school in New Jersey to run a dual-language program that way, then began to pave the way for other dual language programs in New Jersey
We became the first and only charter school to be designated a “Model Program” by the New Jersey Department of Education, a distinction that we’ve enjoyed for 6 years in a row now, and that has led to other dual language schools from all over the country to visit us and learn from us. We are also very proud to have become the first charter school in New Jersey to implement a low-income preference in the lottery, and then the first to create a preference for English language learners. Now, 30% of charters in New Jersey have implemented a lottery preference, following our lead.
Because successful immersion programs require a very specialized set of skills among teachers, HoLa has found it challenging to ensure that they have a pipeline of excellent teachers with both strong bilingual skills and academic content skills, as well as a passion for immersion. They have learned that it is critical to seek out teachers with a growth mindset and to develop skills internally. They invest a great deal of time and energy into developing their teachers, and then working to retain them. They insist on cultivating a deep knowledge of immersion practices and strategies, as well as expertise in current best practices in general education, such as data driven instruction.
Their coaching system is critical to supporting their school’s success. Each teacher has a designated instructional coach who works with him or her to provide targeted feedback and support in ongoing skills development. This relationship is intrinsic to their model, and therefore, to their academic and linguistic outcomes.
Our best advice is to seek out excellence in teaching and learning from those who have achieved the best outcomes for students. Our greatest success has come from understanding the best practices that are leading to great achievement results for kids across the country and ensuring that we are implementing those practices at our school. Among those best practices is a focus on data-driven instruction and giving teachers the resources and tools they need to carry out lessons that are rigorous and language-rich in a multitude of subjects.
They use writers and readers workshops in the early elementary grades, and implement it in both English and Spanish, so that students have authentic experiences reading and writing in both languages. The one period per day that students in grades K-2 spend learning in English is English Language Arts, and there is also a separate Spanish Language Arts class daily. In each of these classes, students develop strong literacy skills in the designated language through guided reading, phonics and grammar instruction, context-based vocabulary development, and a cross-curricular approach to reading analysis and purpose-driven writing.
Of all their successes, they are most proud of HoLa’s emphasis on multiculturalism. They tell students that “bilingualism is their superpower”, and believe this superpower transcends just by being able to speak another language. Because their staff is over 84% Latinx and hail from over a dozen countries, their students are constantly learning about different cultures and learning about a larger, interconnected world.
At HoLa, they are always thinking about innovative learning opportunities. Earlier in the year, they visited with the Education Office of Spain to look at potential partnerships in curriculum, activities as well as teaching partnerships. They were delighted when the Education Office of Spain toured their school and decided HoLa was a great fit for their visiting teachers’ program.
This program allows highly qualified and experienced teachers to teach in classrooms in partnership between the Spanish government and the local American school. They were the first school in New Jersey to form this partnership with the Education Office of Spain and are excited for future collaborations.
Bilingualism isn’t an extra for HoLa, it’s the core of our mission. Our school was created around a mission of dual language education and that mission shapes everything we do. From our executive director, to our teaching staff to our board of directors, everyone is mission aligned and focused on growing the next generation of global citizens in Hoboken.
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