The Fairytale of a School in Harlem and its Journey into Dual Language Education
Chapter 1:Program Structure
Many of us had our reservations, when the idea of starting a dual language program at PS/IS 180 in Harlem, New York was being discussed . We knew dual language education was successful, but we were concerned with how to design a program that would truly meet the needs of our diverse student population.
Our first step was to visit dual language programs across New York City. Unfortunately, we always came back with the same conclusion—those programs did not have what we needed. We knew we needed something different, something that met the needs of our diverse student population. Just before we began our dual language program, the student population at our school had changed. Previously, our school was 100% a Title I school. Just before starting the program, the student population shifted to 60% Title I. In addition to that, our multilingual learners were now coming from homes where languages other than Spanish were spoken. With these two factors in mind, we decided to create something that was different than what we had seen before. We knew that we couldn’t “copy” what our neighboring schools in Spanish Harlem were doing, nor what schools in downtown Brooklyn had done. These models, although good models, did not meet our needs.
Chapter 2: Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development
We decided to create a model that worked for our students, while still following best practices for dual language programs. We reviewed the research and aligned our instructional practices to resemble those mentioned by the experts in the field. We consulted with amazing experts in the field of bilingual education, like Angelica Infante-Green and Dr. Ofelia García. Although we understood what needed to be done, when it came time to find curriculum programs that met the academic and linguistic needs of the students our program would be serving, many came up short. We could not find “our magical glass slipper”.
Chapter 3: High Academic Achievement, Bilingualism and Biliteracy
As a committee, we researched the programs available at the time and many were not designed for students that would be learning Spanish as their third or fourth language. Many of the published programs were designed for students learning Spanish as their second language, or for students whose home language was Spanish. At that point, we were faced with yet another hurdle, creating a curriculum that was of high quality and rigor in both languages. In addition to that, not having state approved standards in Spanish made it a bit more challenging. Nonetheless, this did not stop us for achieving our goal. We took a “little bit from here, and a little bit from there”. We created curriculum maps and conducted horizontal and vertical alignment meetings to ensure everyone was on the same page.
Chapter 4: Family, Community and Resources
We created partnerships with local cultural organizations, such as CookShop Program, Midori, Studio in a School and Ballet Hispánico. The research had taught us the importance of not teaching language in a vacuum. Sociocultural competence was imperative in the success of our dual language program.
We also knew that even though we were only able to have one dual language classroom per grade, all the other classrooms needed to be part of this enriching experience. For all the non-dual language classrooms, we were able to provide classes from Ballet Hispánico, as well as offer them Spanish enrichment class for one period a week. We wanted to ensure that the entire PS/IS 180 family had access to this amazing experience, even if they were not directly enrolled in the dual language classroom.
Chapter 5: Assessment and Accountability
Although we were able to create and implement a successful dual language program at PS/IS 180, it was not without the committee’s commitment to assessment and accountability. As a committee, we were constantly on the lookout for factors that could potentially have an impact on our program, as well as making adjustments to areas where we were not meeting the vision and mission of the program. This last piece of the puzzle ensured that the dual language program we had designed for our students was one worth mentioning in any fairytale story.