This month, we are pleased to nominate UNIDOS, Somerville Public Schools, in Massachusetts as our Dual Language School of the Month. UNIDOS is in East Somerville Community School, and as the only dual language program for the Somerville Public Schools System, they receive students from across the city. Their decision to pursue a dual language program originated in response to Somerville's city population, which includes a large Spanish speaking community, comprised of first and second-generation families predominantly from Central and South America. Furthermore, a core group of English speaking families voiced interest in raising bilingual and bicultural children.
UNIDOS is well established. Between 1995-1999, a dedicated group of community members tirelessly advocated for a dual language program. In 1999, the team successfully galvanized all stakeholders. With the support of the superintendent, school committee, school administrators, teachers, parents and students, the program was approved. The following school year (2000), the program originated with 40 kindergarten students (2 classes).
After the initial approval from the school committee, an internal planning team was developed to spearhead the preparation year. The team was tasked with selecting the location, assisting with hiring bilingual staff, developing a bilingual curriculum and raising awareness about the program. The superintendent was an advocate of dual language education and hired a new bilingual director to oversee the program.
During the planning year, the team studied dual language programs and collectively learned about best practices in bilingual education. They also sought out and identified an existing program to serve as a partner. This relationship was critical during the initial phase as it allowed the team to observe a successful program in action.
Also during this planning year there was a significant effort to involve all stakeholders in shaping the program. This included upper administration and school committees as well as bilingual staff who were interested in the success of the program. Making sure everyone understood the vision and the mission of the program was essential to establishing a foundation.
The preparation work in their implementation phase was critical to the first year's success. The shared ownership of the program amongst all the stakeholders was key.
Everyone – from school committee down to the students- had a clear understanding of the three program goals: bilingualism, biliteracy and biculturalism. Spending the year developing a working definition of each of these was important and allowed everyone to use the same language when advocating for the program. -Maureen Hughes, UNIDOS Specialist
Continue reading to learn more about the February Dual Language School of the Month…